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"What else can go wrong today?"
Aidan Sutherland stared at the latest cryptic email from his foreman on the nearby construction site and swore. Usually, Aidan let stuff like this slide right off him. Despite his power and wealth, he prided himself on his easygoing nature and smooth ability to roll with the punches. It wasn't like him to complain or whine about an unexpected setback.
But this latest problem was number fifty-seven in a whole list of complications and snafus that had cropped up today. And hell, it wasn't even lunchtime. Enough was enough.
He read the foreman's message over again and confirmed that as far as problems went, this one wasn't too earth shattering. Aidan would need to get it taken care of within twenty-four hours though, so he would have to re-prioritize a few agenda items and shift some man power, and the issue would be solved. No sweat.
"So why am I sweating it?" Irritated with himself, he shoved his chair back from his desk, stood and crossed the wide expanse of his penthouse office suite to the wall of windows. As he stared out at the lavish grounds of the gorgeous Alleria Resort that spread out in all directions, his irritation slowly dissolved and satisfaction rose up in its place.
With a quiet laugh, Aidan thought back to the days when this island paradise had been little more than a pipe dream. As youngsters, he and his twin brother, Logan, had plotted and dreamed of becoming like one of their comic book su-perheroes. Iron Man, maybe, or Batman, with wealth and power beyond imagination. If they could wangle a superhero talent like X-ray vision, that would be a bonus. But above all, their imaginary scheme involved amassing a vast empire, and for two California kids who were swimming before they could walk, what would better serve as their empire headquarters than a remote tropical island? They would conduct business from a couple of hammocks under a shady coconut palm tree.
Aidan watched as a catamaran set sail from the marina below. He and Logan had pretty much achieved the dreamalthough their hammock and palm tree headquarters had been traded in for several large suites at the Alleria Resort Hotel. Not bad for two working-class guys who'd spent much of their youth surfing and partying.
For several of those years, the brothers had been lucky enough to sweep most of the surfing competitions they'd taken part in. They'd managed to collect enough prize money to finally fulfill the promise they'd made to their father years before. More than anything else, Dad had wanted them both to go to college.
No one was more surprised than Aidan and Logan when they were accepted to one of the most elite universities on the East Coast. While there, as legend had it, they'd won the deed to their first bar in a fraternity poker game.
Aidan and Logan had also excelled in all their classes, graduated with highest honors, and gone on to collect MBA degrees. But those dry facts had little or no entertainment value, so these days, most business magazine articles featuring the Sutherland brothers chose to highlight their misspent youth by recounting sordid tales of surfing, gambling and partying.
Aidan and his brother didn't really care what the articles claimed. The truth was that they had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams through a capricious combination of business acumen, poker winnings, surfing philosophy, sweat and hard work. Added to all that was some good timing and a hell of a lot of dumb luck, and the result was the present-day empire known as Sutherland Corporation. Now their lavish bars and exclusive resorts could be found in every part of the world, including their very own island, Alleria.
They were living the dream.
The Alleria Resort had become the number-one destination for discerning travelers the world over. It also doubled as the headquarters of Sutherland Corporation. And thanks to the brothers' stewardship, the entire island of Alleria was now a bustling, thriving port of call in the Caribbean.
Aidan returned to his desk and grabbed his coffee mug. While he refilled it from the coffeemaker on the sideboard, he thought about his twin brother. Logan was currently in Europe on his honeymoon with his bride, Grace.
"That's why everything's been going wrong lately," he realized aloud. "Too many weddings."
Once the happy couple returned, things would get back to normal around here, Aidan thought. Well, not right away, he amended. Because speaking of weddings, his own father would be taking the plunge soon, too. Aidan shook his head. As if he wasn't already surrounded by enough blissful lovebirds to mess up his mojo for years to come!
He couldn't begrudge Dad and his beloved Sally their nuptials, though. The two had found each other after years of living alone, so Aidan was happy for them. Still, all of his problems had seemed to start around the same time that everyone began to get happy and fall in love.
Dad and Sally had decided to conduct the ceremony right here on Alleria next month, so that was one more item that needed to be coordinated. In the meantime, Aidan was scheduled to fly to California this coming weekend to take care of some legal business that had to be finalized before Dad married Sally Duke.
"Damn." He'd forgotten to get started on those documents for his father. What the hell? It wasn't like Aidan to forget something like that. Was he losing his grip? Hell no, but he had lost his secretary. She'd abandoned him to marriage, too. Just when he'd needed her most, his trusted ally had fallen in love and gone off to Jamaica to marry her sweetheart. Why did the woman have to quit the same week Logan left town?
At the risk of repeating himself, what was the deal with all these weddings lately?
All that creeping happiness had begun to close in on him and he was pretty certain it had caused the balance of nature to shift. The end result was that Aidan kept forgeting stuff. It made an odd sort of sense, really. Aidan would never in a million years have anything to do with the state of matrimony himself, and yet here he was, surrounded by weddings. It was downright bizarre. No wonder Aidan had taken his eye off the ball. Everything in his carefully organized world was going up in smoke lately.
He pulled out his smartphone and compared his electronic calendar with the written schedule he kept on his desk, checking to see if anything else had fallen by the wayside lately. Ordinarily, he was on top of every single detail of Sutherland Corporation business, but as he checked his calendar, he noted that since Logan's wedding a week ago, he'd allowed a few things to drift. They wouldn't cause any major problems, but that didn't excuse his forgetfulness.
The Erickson deal, he noted, would have to be handled within the next three weeks. With Logan away on his honeymoon, Aidan decided to hand the project off to Ellie. He'd been doing that a lot lately, he admitted to himself, but only because he was knee deep in other plans and strategy involving the boutique hotel the Duke brothers were about to break ground on a few miles away on the north shore of the island. The Dukes were his cousins and were experts at negotiating with the unions, but they weren't here on the island. Not yet, anyway.
And frankly, Ellie would handle the deal better. While there were no better negotiators on earth than Aidan and Logan, Ellie brought an extra touch of nuance to any discussion. She could handle Erickson, the union bosses and the Dukes with no problem, he thought. Not that he would pile all that on her, but the fact was, if she was in charge, they'd get done. Clearly, with all that was going on, Aidan had to admit he couldn't depend entirely on his own memory right now.
As a rule, Aidan thrived on meticulous attention to detail. And didn't that sound like he walked around with a giant stick up his ass? He didn't. He was cool, calm and laid-back at all times, damn it. An easygoing guy. But he still expected things to run smoothly and he paid his well organized team a lot of money to make sure they always did.
"What?" he demanded, whipping around to glare at whoever was here to aggravate him. "Ooh, not a good time?"
"Ellie." Aidan relaxed instantly at the sight of Eleanor Sterling, his senior vice president, standing at his office door. "Come in. Sorry I barked at you."
"Something not going smoothly?"
"Nothing that can't be fixed," he said. "A little mix-up over at the construction site, but we'll work it out. In fact, you're just the person I wanted to talk to about it. But you go first. What's on your mind?"
"I have a list of things to go over with you," she said, holding up the small, sleek computer tablet that was never out of her sight.
"Of course you do," he murmured, chuckling. When had their super-efficient, proactive, forward-thinking senior vice president ever not had a list?
Even when his world was tipping crazily out of balance, he could count on Ellie to be exactly who she was. His ruthlessly organized, efficient right-hand man. Woman. Person.
Ellie approached his desk and Aidan's breath got caught somewhere in his throat as he watched her plant herself in the chair opposite him and cross her stunning long legs.
Damn. He turned away to stare at.. something else. This had been happening a lot lately and it was one more thing he could blame on all that wedding madness. Or it would be, if it weren't for the fact that he'd been ogling his business associate's legs for a long time now. Every time she came near him lately, he was ready to pounce like a jungle cat. And who could blame him? The woman had world-class legs. And a world-class smile. He was pretty sure she had world-class breasts, as well, but that was none of his business. She had a gorgeous smile and beautiful lips. Clear blue eyes, an adorable nose and lush dark hair that she wore in a straight style that fell like a thick ribbon halfway down her back.
Was this attraction to Ellie one more example of the sneaky universe conspiring to ruin his life? Was there such a thing as orange-blossom poisoning? Had he overdosed on weddings? Absolutely. That's all this was. Too much romance and talk of happy ever after. So of course he'd been noticing Ellie's legs lately. He'd have been blind not to.
There, a perfectly reasonable explanation. He felt better. Except for the knot of need in his stomach and the more visible sign of his desire that he fought to suppress before she noticed and ran screaming from his office.
After a long moment, he turned and gave her a nonchalant smile, as if he hadn't been picturing her naked in his bed seconds ago. But hell, a jury of his peers would never blame him for having those thoughts. She was wearing a dress in some cheery, summery color that was sleeveless and short and contoured to fit her wellendowed body perfectly. When had she started dressing so Hmm. Had she always been this sexy and he just hadn't noticed until recently? Damn. Might be time to get his eyes checked, after all.
Whatever, that dress showed off her smooth, lightly tanned arms and her aforementioned awesomely hot legs.
And now that he thought about it, he realized Ellie rarely wore dresses, preferring lightweight tailored suits and what Aidan referred to as "sensible" shoes. But the weather had turned even warmer than usual lately and they did live and work on a tropical island, after all. That might explain those three-inch-high strappy sandals she wore that gave even more definition to her attractively toned legs.
He mentally kicked his ass. Thinking of his senior VP like this was completely unacceptable. The woman brought incredible resourcefulness and negotiating talent to the company. Not sex. Not ever. End of story.
He blamed his wayward thoughts on the fact that he hadn't been out with a woman in How long had it been? Didn't matter. Ellie was off-limits. He reeled in his urges, sat down at his desk and smiled tightly at Ellie. "So what can I do to you?"
"Excuse me?" she said.
"I mean, do for you?" Good grief. "Sorry, I'm a little distracted by that, uh, union issue I mentioned. So what's on your list?"
As she studied the tablet screen, she wriggled in her chair, uncrossed and re-crossed her legs. Aidan was captivated by the movement and wondered if she would mind if he pulled her onto his desk and began to lick every inch of her legs, starting with her ankles and moving up to her
"Number one on the agenda has to do with the new sports center," Ellie said. "The Paragon contracts are printed and ready to sign."
With his jaw clenched, Aidan forced the sultry image away and shook himself back to attention. Now what was she saying? Oh, yeah. Paragon was the vendor that would be supplying the center with everything from workers' uniforms to gym towels to drinking cups. Aidan and Logan were old surfing buddies with Keith Sands, the Paragon CEO, and knew him well.
"Good," Aidan said. "Let's overnight them to Keith and get that wrapped up."
"Done." She tapped out a message on her screen keyboard, then nibbled on her bottom lip as she studied the screen. Aidan tortured himself by watching her luscious mouth in action and wondered if maybe he needed to take a cold shower.
As he dragged his gaze away, he vowed to find himself a date while visiting California over the weekend. It had been too long since he'd indulged in some good old-fashioned, no-strings-attached sex. That had to be another reason why he was so distracted by Ellie's excellent body, but he had to snap out of it. There was no way he would allow the oneway attraction to grow. Otherwise, he would never shake off this funk. "What's next?"
She pressed the tablet's surface and a new screen appeared. Glancing up, she said, "As you know, the new hotel is on track to break ground in two weeks."
"Right. But there's a holdup with the cement mixer company."
"Yes, I spoke to them," Ellie said. "I think we've worked it out. I'll keep you posted."
"Thanks, I appreciate you taking on that issue. Next agenda item?" Aidan asked.
"Right. This one's a little tricky." She shook her hair back and took a deep breath. "I'm overdue for some time off and I'm sorry for the short notice, but I have to take three weeks off next month, from the second to the twenty-third." She checked her tablet. "I've arranged coverage for all of my assignments so there shouldn't be any problems."