Ten years ago, Aaron Wethers saved Rebecca Cromwell from drowning on spring break. Enamored by her sexy savior, Rebecca fell short of getting the hard-edged executive interested in turning his role of practical hero into a romantic one. Now his Caribbean resort is hosting Rebecca's fashion collection, and she has two weeks to show Aaron how much she's grown up. Yet instead of enjoying revenge, she's falling hard for the real but enigmatic man behind her long-ago infatuation.
Aaron hasn't forgotten the vibrant young student who propositioned him that night. He's left breathless by the self-assured, stunning beauty she's become. Under a blue island sky, they discover a deep, searing connection. But when a series of dangerous events threaten to sabotage her show, can he be the hero she needs now?
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The luscious, exotic island of St. James boasted white sand beaches, towering coconut and breadfruit trees and water so blue it put the sky to shame. Red Beacon Villa Resorts sat on the far north side, away from the island's bustling capital and other major cities. The resort was an international destination that catered to an array of guests and had done so for the past fifty years. Its majestic main house stood proud and welcoming. But while outside a soft Caribbean breeze toyed with the palm trees that surrounded the house's tall pillars and gleaming windows, a storm raged within.
"She said what?" Aaron Wethers asked, glaring at the man who faced him. A little green lizard sat outside on the windowsill, seeming to look at the two men who sat in the office. One man sat behind a large oak desk decorated with intricate, inlaid gold trim. He was considerably younger than the second man and nearly twice his size, and his steady gaze seemed to make the second man sink lower in his chair.
The second man was Harvey Clark, a name he'd hated since he was a boy, but he'd never had the courage to change it, so he preferred to go by the initials H.C. Harvey wiped the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief and fought not to chew his nails. It was a nervous habit he'd finally conquered in his late forties. The room wasn't hot, but under Wethers's stare, he felt like an ant under a microscope. He'd practiced what he was going to say all yesterday and even this morning before the meeting, but nothing could have prepared him for the anger that flashed in his boss's penetrating dark gaze.
Wethers was a man both respected and, at times, feared. He was the kind of man who could make anyone feel small with just a glance. Not due to arrogance, although as a child of privilege it was almost expected, or because he was a bullyhe was a fair man and loyal to his staff. Harvey liked him. He'd worked for his father and was honored to work with the son. But the younger Wethers was a man you didn't want to disappoint, and one you certainly didn't want to make angry. Harvey lightened his tone, attempting not to make the news sound as bad as it really was. "Your sister needs your help."
Aaron fell silent, then slowly blinked with the ease of a lazy lion. "What the hell do I know about hosting a fashion show?" he finally asked.
"You don't have to know anything. That's not what she needs you for."
"She thinks someone is trying to sabotage the show. A box of props went missing."
"And we had a new shipment sent. I know. I had a friend of mine take care of replacing the items. I'd hardly call that sabotage."
Harvey wiped his neck, then glanced outside and saw Wethers's son, Brandon, looking through the bushes. "But your sister is nervous because other things have gone wrong."
"My sister tends to dramatize issues." Wethers kept his gaze focused on the magnificent view of the ocean from his office window.
"Right now she's in the process of leaving the island with three of her models who've developed rashes all over their bodies."
"An allergic reaction?"
"She thinks someone tampered with their makeup. She's taking several samples with her to get tested."
"She could have had someone else do that."
"Your mother said"
Wethers lifted his brows. "You're actually going to bring my mother into this, too?"
Harvey silently swore, knowing he'd made a wrong move. Hitting Wethers with both his mother and sister was not a wise strategy. "She agrees with your sister. They both think your involvement is essential."
Aaron rubbed his chin. "And you're just telling me this now? My sister couldn't tell me this yesterday?"
"The makeup tampering"
Aaron held up his hand. "Alleged tampering."
"really concerns her. She wouldn't have bothered you otherwise," Harvey finished, then glanced outside again, unable to hold Wethers's steady gaze, and saw Brandon talking to one of the groundskeepers, who listened to something he said, then shook his head. What was the boy looking for? "H.C.?"
Harvey turned sharply to him. "Yes?"
"What are you looking at?"
Wethers's tone sharpened. "What about my son?"
Harvey shook his head, sorry he'd mentioned it. Wethers had enough to think about, and Harvey didn't want to worry him needlessly. It was probably nothing. Brandon was a good kid and didn't usually get into trouble. "Nothing. Sorry, II just saw him run past." He folded his damp handkerchief and pressed it to his forehead again.
Wethers narrowed his eyes. "What's got you so nervous?"
Harvey shrugged. "I'm not nervous." He adjusted his position in the large overstuffed chair.
Wethers narrowed his eyes a fraction more. "You believe her, don't you?"
"These incidents don't seem like accidents, especially the last one."
Aaron shrugged. "Two mishaps aren't"
"Actually, there have been three mishaps. These two were just the latest. The first one involved the digital file for the event. It somehow got corrupted, but fortunately there was a backup."
"She really sounded upset on the phone about what's happening."
Aaron groaned. "I hate this. You know my plan was to stay as far away as possible over these next several days while our resort is overrun with overindulged, self-interested parasites."
Harvey held out his hands. "I know you had a bad experience with models"
"Bad? Would you call the sinking of the Titanic merely bad? The stock market crash of 1929 a mere miscalculation?"
Harvey sighed. "I'm sorry. I know how bad I mean awful" he quickly corrected "it was for you. But that was more than nine years ago. This isn't about vanity. I've seen some of what they're putting together and it's really beautiful, and the people I've met have been very nice. We're dealing with professionals, and I'll help as much as I can, but I think your sister's concern shouldn't be taken lightly."
Aaron slowly stood to his feet. "You're a good man, H.C." Aaron walked around the desk, then leaned against it with his arms folded. "I love my sister, but she has a habit of causing trouble, and my mother indulges her. But maybe there is something to this. When is my mother coming?"
Harvey nervously cleared his throat, wishing Wethers would return to his seat. He hated having to look up at him. "Youryour mother?"
"Yes, my mother. This is right up her alley. If she's as concerned as my sister, she'll love to be here and make sure everything is spectacular. She's been a fashion hound since I was a kid. She'll use this opportunity to indulge her personal hobby. I don't care if she wants to come and boss me around a bit while I look into what's going on."
Harvey unfolded his damp handkerchief and wiped his forehead, his cheeks and his neck, then crumpled it in his fist. This was the news he didn't want to deliver. "That's the problem."
Aaron stilled. "What is?"
"Your mother needs you to be in charge."
"She broke her ankle while vacationing in Switzerland and won't be able to be here, either."
Wethers looked out the window at the swaying palm trees and said in a low voice, "How convenient."
"It doesn't sound very convenient to me."
Wethers shifted his gaze back to Harvey. "You missed the ring of sarcasm. I'll try to be clearer next time." He tapped a finger against his lips and said in a quiet voice, "I wonder what those two are up to?"
"I really think your sister's frightened."
"Then why didn't she tell me directly?"
"She didn't think you'd believe her. And this event is very important to her. This new designer is making waves around the globe. Red Beacon Villa Resorts will make a name for itself hosting the Cromwell Collection."
"I don't care what his name is"
"Her. Her name is Rebecca Cromwell," Harvey continued, ignoring Aaron's obvious boredom with the topic.
Aaron stared at him for a long moment, making it clear he didn't care.
Harvey swallowed. He hated when Wethers pinned him with that penetrating look. "I just thought you should know."
"Tell you what?"
"What you really think. Should I be concerned?"
"I honestly don't know," Harvey said, relieved that at least that was the truth. "There are a lot of people involved in this eventvolunteers, caterers, photographers, the stage crew, the stylists. Mistakes are bound to happen."
"You're giving me excuses, not an opinion. What do you really think?"
"I think that if what Candace believes is true, we have a serious problem because things seem to be escalating. The corrupted file and lost props were an annoyance, but tampering with the model's makeup makes things more dangerous. Only the top three models were affected, and they were to be the key draw for the event, since one of them is a local girl. If anything else goes wrong, it's possible we'll have to cancel."
"I'm not going to let that happen. We may have lost three days, but we have eleven days left."
"Yes, sir," Harvey said, feeling his heart cheer. He knew Wethers would do whatever it took to save the show.
"I want to meet with security in an hour."
"Yes." Harvey nodded, then left the room, wiping his forehead again when his phone rang. "Hello?"
"What does he think?" Candace Wethers said.
Harvey lowered his voice. "You should have told him yourself."
"You know I couldn't. Was he angry?"
"Yes, at first, then he said he'll look into it."
"Did you tell him about Rebecca?"
"Only briefly. I thought it best to focus on the show. I don't think he'll believe she's the one being targeted. Besides, there's no proof."
"I know, but I just have a bad feeling about this. I think whoever is trying to sabotage the show is trying to hurt her."
"You think her life's in danger?"
Candace sighed. "I really don't know. It doesn't make sense, but I have a horrible feeling that Rebecca could get hurt in more ways than one."
"Do you think perhaps we should reschedule or cancel the show?"
"No," she said quickly. "Don't even think that. I know that Aaron can do this."
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
Candace laughed in a way that made Harvey nervous. "I always know what I'm doing."
Aaron studied the lizard sunning on his window-sill. "If it were just Candace and my mother I wouldn't care much, but it's not like H.C. to worry," he said, talking to the creature. "I can't have that, but Candace knew I wanted to stay out of this fashion thing." Was she faking this crazy story about sabotage? No, it would be too easy to verify. And she wouldn't leave a key event, like a high-profile fashion show, just to annoy him. Although he wouldn't put much past her. She liked to get her way and thought his life was dull. Was this her way of adding some spice?
The lizard looked at him briefly, then darted away. Aaron rested his hands on the window frame and looked out at the ocean. Was it wrong to want a quiet, simple life? His sister always wanted more. More friends, more excitement, more fun. That's why she trotted across the globe while he stayed on St. James, raising his son. She was the creative one in the family. She was the one who loved fashion and art. She was beautiful, reckless, changeable and irresistible. He'd idolized her so much as a child that, as a grown man, he'd married a woman similar to her, and that had been a disaster.
His marriage to Ina Margarita Sheldon had shown him just how much he and his sister were dissimilar. He was practical and rational and would never change, although his sister continued to try to encourage him to do so. He remembered their conversation last month as they sat on the veranda of the main house, where he and his son lived. His mother and sister each had their own separate small three-bedroom chalet, located several hundred feet away from his residence, but Candace always liked to stop by to chat, scold or tease him, depending on her mood.
"You can do better," she said, nibbling on a fresh slice of melon. A large pink pinwheel hat shaded her face.
"What are you talking about?" Aaron asked as he watched his sister make her way through the plate full of fruit.
"Mary, the new woman you're seeing."
Aaron shook his head and speared a mango cube. "Her name is Martha Banyan."
"And she's a librarian."
"She's a teacher." He pointed his fork at her. "I knew I shouldn't have said anything."
"I'm glad you did. I would have found out anyway. You know news travels fast on this island. I just know you can do better."
Aaron set his fork down, no longer interested in eating. "I thought you'd be impressed."
"Impressed by what? Plain, boring, dull"
"She's pretty and sweet."
"I wasn't talking about how she looks. I was talking about her clothes."
"Not all women are interested in fashion like you, or can afford to change their wardrobe every season."
Candace made a face. "There's no need to exaggerate."
Aaron grinned. "I thought I was being conservative."
Candace rolled her eyes and swung her foot. "She's just not the right one for you."
Aaron sat back and folded his arms, trying to keep his tone neutral, although his sister's criticism bothered him. "I thought you'd at least be happy for me. You're the one who's been pressuring me to start dating again."
"Settling for the first woman who said yes was not what I meant."
Aaron frowned. "I'm not settling."
"She's everything Ina isn't."
"Exactly." He speared a large slice of pineapple with his fork.
"You shouldn't sound so proud of it." Candace waved her fork at him before she stabbed another melon slice. "You're going to get bored with her. You're a lot wilder than you think, little brother. Remember, you've got the blood of a pirate running through you."