Read an Excerpt
"Emilie, your job is to make sure a warm body is in each bed."
"Let's be realistic, Tom," Emilie Woodward pleaded with her unsmiling boss. "This is Flamingo Beach, not Las Vegas. Give me time to get us there."
"Eighty-five percent occupancy. I'll take nothing less."
"Sixty-five percent," Emilie shot back, "And that's a stretch goal. It's a brand-new resort, and the first of its kind to be built in a town known for motels. We have to build our reputation. That's not going to happen on my minuscule advertising budget."
"Seventy-five percent and that's that, or else."
"Or else what?"
Emilie placed her hands on her slender hips and blew a lock of flaming red hair out of her eyes. Not one to back down, those green eyes flashed a challenge.
Tom Burke, senior vice president of sales and marketing, stared back. His eyes looked like huge road maps either from lack of sleep or one too many martinis. A little of both Emilie suspected.
"We'll both get canned, that's what. Corporate is expecting us to put the Flamingo Beach Spa and Resort on the map. They've invested a bundle in top-of-the-line appointments and world-class amenities. And in case you forgot there is that huge bonus at stake."
She hadn't forgotten. That bonus was money she really could use. She had plans to buy the condo she was currently renting from Quen Abrahams before prices went right through the roof. Even so she was not about to be intimidated or bullied.
"Let the muckety-mucks at headquarters know that unless my advertising budget is increased, they'll be hard-pressed have a hotel at fifty percent capacity. I can't be expected to work miracles."
"You're the director of corporate and leisure sales. You can make it happen. Look at what you did with that property in Painted Post."
"I'm leisure sales, strictly leisure sales. When did I acquire the corporate title?"
"Since I appointed you. Did I forget to mention the title change?"
"Apparently you did."
Pressing two manicured fingers to her forehead, she massaged the frown lines. "Did you also forget to mention the raise that came with this title change? Keeping that Painted Post property at maximum capacity added ten years to my life. I still haven't recovered. Only a brain surgeon would build a five-star hotel in a little Upstate New York town."
"That surgeon was our owner, Caryn Knight. Caryn has always prided herself on finding possibilities where none exist." Tom glanced at his watch and shot to his feet. "Better get going. I have a flight to catch."
After shaking the wrinkles out of his slacks, he grabbed his jacket and briefcase and took off.
"Guarantee that I won't be transferred for five years and throw in a nice raise, and I can make it happen," Emilie called after him.
"Three years, but I can't promise a raise. A fat bonus should be incentive enough," he said.
After Tom left Emilie sank into her chair and kicked off her high heel pumps. She stabbed the intercom button and called to her assistant.
"Hey, Zoe, can you get Rowan James on the phone?"
Rowan was the hotshot developer buying up properties like they were going out of style. He was new to Flamingo Beach. The Knight Corporation, the company that owned the resort Emilie worked for, had used him to develop their waterfront land. They'd gone out a couple of times, but he wasn't exactly what Emilie considered relationship material. Her goal was to find a smart, savvy, African-American man who didn't come with baggage. That's what she'd promised her father.
"Mr. James isn't answering," Zoe called from the outer room. "I left him a message to get in touch with you."
"Try reaching Joya and see if she's available for lunch."
Emilie had gotten her friend Joya Hamill-Morse a job as an event planner at the Flamingo Beach Spa and Resort. The two women were close, but the hotel business being what it was they seldom crossed paths at work.
Minutes later, Zoe stuck her head through the door. "Joya says she can meet you at Shellfish at twelve o'clock sharp. It's that new place on the boardwalk. Is noon good for you?"
"Perfect. I'll return calls and catch up on e-mails. Please don't put anyone through."
Almost half an hour later, Emilie sashayed into Shellfish and looked round. She finally spotted Joya seated on a high stool on the outdoor deck. Her friend had already ordered and a spread lay before her. Joya waved her over.
"Nice of you to wait for me," Emilie chastised, easing onto the stool opposite and helping herself to a fattening French fry.
"Hmm, this is good. I haven't had carbs in months."
"You're half an hour late. I'm not management. I have to be back on time. If I'm even five minutes late Keanu gets crazy. Who needs that stress?"
Emilie began pushing buttons on her phone. "I'll fix things with Keanu. You know I always take care of my girl," Emilie said.
Conversation over, Emilie shoved the phone back into her purse. "I bought you another hour. I told your temperamental boss we're having a lunch meeting."
Joya rolled her eyes and bit into her fish sandwich. "You're going to get me fired."
"I'll probably be fired first."
"Not you. You've got a position, and your employees think you walk on water."
"Tell that to Tom Burke, my senior vice president. He doesn't think I'm doing such a hot job. I just got told to get occupancy rates up or else. He doesn't care whether it's the season or not, and that people aren't exactly flocking to North Florida in the summer."
"You'll just have to make it so they flock to the spa. You're creative and innovative. Why don't you offer promotional specials to people in the travel and hospitality industry? Give them rooms at a discounted rate and they're there."
"Maybe you should be my assistant," Emilie said, taking a pad from her purse and jotting notes.
A server hovered nearby and she ordered a shrimp salad and sweet tea.
"What about singles events?" Joya suggested. "You could offer weekend specials or even minivacations so those looking for a soul mate can hook up. You could even partner with a dating site. Dr. Phil, the celebrity psychologist, does it, so why can't the Flamingo Beach Spa and Resort?"
"Keep those ideas coming," Emilie muttered, continuing to jot. "I was thinking more along the lines of Girlfriend Weekends and Passion Parties."
"What's a Passion Party?"
"Events where adult toys are sold. Those parties are big with women."
"Adult toys, as in sexual paraphernalia?"
"Lotions, potions, electronic gadgets."
Joya's eye roll said it all. "That should really go over big in this provincial town."
"Come on now, Flamingo Beach is growing in leaps and bounds especially since all of those New Yorkers moved in. Look at all the changes since Flamingo Beach turned one hundred years old."
After Emilie's meal was set down, Joya jumped right back in.
"Yeah, we're suddenly hot and everyone with a spare dollar is looking to buy property here. A new mall is going up and now there's talk about a casino and resort being built."
Emilie's stomach suddenly felt queasy. There was a tightness in her chest that had her breath coming in little bursts. "What casino and resort?"
"Didn't you hear? Derek and Rowan were approached for the project. Camille Lewis has the scoop on the whole thing. She claims Mayor Rabinowitz is taking kickbacks to make the casino happen."
Emilie stopped eating and stabbed the air with her fork. "If that's true that's no surprise about the mayor. What about the casino? The Flamingo Beach Spa and Resort can't stand the competition. This town can hardly support one resort much less two. Do you know who's funding this venture?"
Joya's glance met hers head-on. "James Morse, Inc., is arranging the funding, but the brain behind this is a black Native American. He's someone I went to school with. He lived in Flamingo Beach way back when."
"What's his name?"
"Keith Lightfoot. Hey, Rowan and Derek just walked in. Rowan can fill you in. I'm off to say hi to my honey."
Joya leaped from the stool and went off to greet her husband.
In a matter of seconds after she'd sat down at his table, Rowan James, the developer, came loping over. He was a big man at almost six foot five and built like a football player. He had blond hair that flopped over his forehead and sky-blue eyes that could be mesmerizing at times. Rowan's jeans were faded in all the right places and snug. There was a slit in one knee exposing a tanned kneecap. His large hands were amazingly clean, the nails neatly clipped. His boots were dusty and if she were to guess hid size fourteen feet. Mama Mia!
"Hey, you," he said, sliding onto the chair Joya had recently vacated. He reached over, touching the tip of Emily's nose with his index finger. "So when are you and I going to hook up again?"
"We've never hooked up. Let's get the verbiage straight," Emilie said, laughing.
"Hook up" implied they'd done the nasty. They'd come close, but then she'd decided better not go there. What she really hoped to find was a brotha, though it seemed all the good ones were taken at least in Flamingo Beach.
Joya had nabbed Derek Morse; Jenna, Tre Monroe and Chere, oversized personality and all, had married Quen. That left pitifully few black males of a certain age. Emilie with her light skin, red hair and freckles was not short of suitors, except that most of them were white.
Not that she had a problem with cross-cultural dating. It was just that bronze skin and dark eyes turned her on. She was the product of two light-skinned African-American parents, and she found a dark-skinned man especially appealing. There was also the promise she'd made to her father.
"Okay, when can we go out again? Is that better?" Rowan asked, his glance lingering a tad too long on the white linen shirt that stretched across her full breasts.
Emilie played with her top button and gazed into his eyes. She knew she was playing with fire.
"I'm available tomorrow night. Take me to dinner and you can tell me all about this casino you're building."
"Invite me to your place to eat and we can talk all night."
"Sorry, dude. I don't cook."
Rowan groaned loudly, his massive shoulders rising and falling. "Figures I'd pick a woman who can't cook and who gets a kick out of playing with me. Okay, pick the restaurant and I'll take you there." He reached for her glass and gulped down most of her tea.
"Might as well finish it," Emilie said, inspecting the almost-empty glass and shoving it back at him.
"I just might." Rowan's tongue rimmed his lips. She tore her eyes away. Rowan James was much too sexy for his own good. "Thirst quenching."
Before Emilie could come up with an appropriate retort, Joya came back to the table with Derek in tow.
"Looking good as usual. Are you taking care of my wife?" he asked, kissing her cheek.
His partner glanced at his BlackBerry and shot up.
"Keith Lightfoot is on his way over to our offices. We need to go."
"Why do I keep hearing Keith Lightfoot's name mentioned?" Emilie called after both men.
Rowan's index finger jabbed the air. "We'll talk tomorrow night at dinner."
"What's the deal with this Lightfoot guy?" Emilie asked Joya after the men had left. "He seems to command a lot of respect around here."
"Keith does. As I mentioned he's a black Native American businessman with deep pockets. He's on the tribal council. He moved away, made some money in real estate and now he's back."
Emilie raised a finger and placed her phone to her ear. "Hold on for a minute. I have an incoming call."
"Yes, Zoe. Shoot! I totally forgot about that meeting. Make Mr. Pendergrass comfortable, get him water, coffee, anything he wants." She disconnected.
"Listen, I really have to run. Let's talk about this Lightfoot guy later."
Grabbing her purse, she took off.
This was not good. She was late for her meeting with Ian Pendergrass, the publisher of the Flamingo Beach Chronicle. Ian was not one to be kept waiting, and she was the person who had called the meeting.
Emilie made it back to the hotel in record time. She entered her office to find Ian lounged on her couch. One tasseled loafer tapped impatiently as he waited.
"I'm sorry I'm late. I had a meeting that ran overtime," Emilie lied.
"Not to worry. Your assistant kept me wonderful company." Ian rose and took both of Emilie's hands, pressing them to his lips. "You are one gorgeous woman."