Book 3 in the Hotel Temptation Series
Businesswoman Lucinda’s deal with sexy hotel owner Jason Kaoki goes awry when he takes their negotiations from the boardroom to the bedroom. Can Lucinda keep her eyes on the prize when Jason turns up the heat?
Lucinda Graves is a razor-sharp businesswoman who wants to add a tropical St George hotel to her growing property empire—and she always gets what she wants. The only obstacle in her way is the devastatingly handsome owner, Jason Kaoki, who’s determined to negotiate the way he knows best: in the bedroom.
She’s never liked mixing business with pleasure but the fiery attraction between them is undeniable, so this time Lucinda’s more than happy to play Jason at his own game—especially if it means she gets her prized hotel when the thrills are all over.
However, as Jason raises the bar with each suggestive dare, ice queen Lucinda finds it harder and harder to keep her cool. She was sure she could handle the no-string terms of his tantalizing deal and keep her feelings in check… but he knows how to push her buttons in all the right ways!
Five separate emissaries had already been sent from competing hotel conglomerates to convince the notably impossible Jason Kaoki to develop the unspoiled private island in the Pacific he’d inherited from his late father, international playboy and real estate tycoon Daniel St. George.
Miserably. And quickly.
Lucinda Graves had no intention of making herself the sixth.
It had taken her forty hours of brutal long-haul travel to make it across the planet. Forty miserable hours from the gray bustle of London in what passed for its rainy spring to this tiny, shockingly bright island sunning itself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She was thousands of miles from anywhere, surrounded by nothing but salt and sea stretching out toward the horizon in all directions—a state of affairs that might have made her anxious had she possessed the wherewithal to consider it in any depth.
Because she was tired. More than tired. Somewhere over North America, Lucinda had gone past “tired” entirely and had found herself in the realm of a pure, bone-deep exhaustion the likes of which she wasn’t certain she’d ever felt before in her twenty-eight years.
But she was not to be deterred.
She would be the one to land this deal. She knew it.
The simple truth was that she would accept no other outcome.
When failure wasn’t an option, she liked to tell herself, the only remaining possibility was success.
The tiny little hopper plane, barely large enough to hold the pilot—much less an uneasy passenger who preferred her jets sized to carry hundreds, the better to imagine it wasn’t a plane at all—landed rather too bouncily for her taste over what she assumed had to be some kind of lagoon, the water blue and turquoise and gleaming.
She was too bleary-eyed and hollowed out from too many time zones to care.
When she stepped out of the plane onto the little dock that stretched out over the water—a dock, of all things, instead of any kind of proper tarmac, or climate-controlled, civilized airport—the humidity walloped her. It was like a fist, wet and hot. It was an instant, relentless assault and it nearly took her to her knees, right there beneath some rattling palm trees and the careless, blinding sunshine.
Lucinda had assumed she was duly prepared. She’d known she was heading to a tropical island, obviously. And she’d been to beaches before, like the last corporate retreat her company had taken to sundrenched Spain—where she’d been expected to conduct business while sitting beside a pool, brandishing drinks festooned with foliage and pretending to be relaxed and carefree in a bloody sarong. She’d assumed this would be more of the same, if farther away than a quick hop to Spain. A beach was a beach, she’d assured herself as she’d set off what seemed like a lifetime ago.
But it turned out she wasn’t prepared for this remote Pacific island that didn’t appear on most maps and had no official name. Maybe it was impossible to be prepared for this much tropical heat all at once, heavy and intense.
Her hands went to her hair at once. Bright red and embarrassing, its mission in life was to curl dramatically and unprofessionally at the slightest provocation. Lucinda went to great lengths to keep it neat and sleek. She kept it ruthlessly straight and swept back into a severe bun on the back of her head, which kept it under control but couldn’t minimize its upsetting color. Lucinda had often considered dying her hair a more appropriate brown, the better to blend in, but the idea of all the upkeep struck her as wasteful. She’d concentrated instead on ridding herself of her native Scottish accent, because the circles in which she aspired to move had no place for impenetrable working-class Glaswegian accents.
And Lucinda succeeded in all she did, because she didn’t allow for the possibility of failure. She never had, from her rough beginnings in one of Glasgow’s notorious housing estates to her current position as a vice president in her company’s London corporate office. Tropical heat on a Pacific island couldn’t change that.
Though it complicated things, certainly. It seemed to curl into her, sneaking beneath her clothes like some kind of insinuation.
Lucinda tried to shake it off as she took in her surroundings, frowning at the sweep of untouched white sand and the wild tangle of jungle beyond, climbing up the green, steep sides of the hills.
“Are you certain this is the right place?” she demanded of the pilot, who had climbed down to the dock ahead of her and insisted on grinning widely as if everything she said and did was vastly entertaining.
Lucinda was not entertaining, thank you very much. She was effective. She was capable. And she was used to being treated as exactly what she was and wanted to be. Stern. Uncompromising. A straight-edged ruler of a woman, one of her first bosses had called her. He’d meant it as an insult, but Lucinda had taken it as the greatest compliment and had tried her best to live up to it ever since.
“You said you wanted Jason Kaoki,” the pilot replied, still grinning. “This is where he lives. I couldn’t tell you if that makes it the right place or not.”
Lucinda forced a tight smile, wrestled her sensible and compact carry-on bag behind her and marched off the dock.
Onto the pristine, glaring white beach, which she found even less accommodating than the smirking pilot she’d hired in Fiji, since there were no commercial flights to this place, plunked down in the Pacific somewhere between Honolulu and Nadi. The sand was hot and shifted beneath her as she walked, in a manner she found deeply unnerving. She liked the comfort of concrete. The assurance that when she stepped on it, it would remain exactly where it was, rain or shine.
The beach had its own ideas. That and the humidity…got to her, she could admit.
Lucinda had worn sensible flats, of course, but was otherwise hardly dressed for a romp across the sands. Despite the forty hours she’d spent traveling—one long-haul flight after another, with too many overly bright airports in between—she had maintained her usual workplace uniform. She was convinced a coolheaded, professional approach was the key to landing this account.
Though at the moment, trying not to sink knee-deep into blindingly white sand, she wished she hadn’t, perhaps, dressed for her conservative London office all those hours ago in her flat. It might have been wiser to choose something more appropriate for islands much warmer and brighter than the United Kingdom.
Lucinda wasn’t one to concede without a fight—or at all, generally speaking—but it took only about ten steps before she was forced to admit defeat. It was too hot. She was a natural shade of Scottish pale that she was afraid might burst into flame at any moment in all this tropical sun and heat, and she was so uncomfortable that she’d stopped thinking about her goals and was caught up in thinking about how she felt. That was unacceptable. She stopped, sinking deep into the sand, to shrug off her black jacket and kick off her matching flats, and wore nothing but her wrinkle-resistant blouse and sleek pencil skirt as she stormed the rest of her way toward solid ground.
Once there, she paused by another picturesque palm tree to dump the beach out of her shoes and slip them back on. And also to catch her breath, accept the likelihood that she was already breaking out in blisters from the relentless sun beating down on her, and try to get her bearings.
If the map on her phone was any guide, and she’d done enough research to know it was, there was precious little on this island. It was almost entirely undeveloped, save the sprawling house Daniel St. George had built here and a single, ancient hotel that had been thrown together in the 1950s in service to an Australian oilman’s fantasies of world domination. The hotel had never opened and now sat as a monument to the perils of too much money with no good sense.
She shoved her inadequate sunglasses higher on her nose as she peered down the length of the beach, frowning until she saw the hotel in question, peeking around a picture-perfect curve dusted with palm trees as it reached out toward the blue horizon. The old hotel squatted there with its midtwentieth-century facade and squat, flat shape, reminding Lucinda far too much of the block of flats she’d lived in as a child. All of which should have been torn down before the dawn of the twenty-first century, as far as Lucinda was concerned.
If she had her way, the sad old hotel wouldn’t make it through the summer.
There was a kind of track—she wouldn’t call it a road, packed with red dirt and sprouting weeds in the center—that skirted along the edge of the beach and wasn’t yet overtaken by the encroaching jungle. Lucinda marched along it, her eyes on the hotel. It didn’t get any prettier as she moved. But with every overly warm step, she entertained herself with notions of what could be.
A private island resort, catering only to the wealthiest and most exclusive clientele. The kind of fantasy island retreat most people only dreamed about, made a reality right here. She drew up plans in her head, ignoring the blazing sun. The humidity. The unmistakable knowledge that her makeup, or what was left of it all these hours after she’d last applied it in a restroom in the bowels of LAX, was almost certainly melting off her face.
It was a deceptive ten minutes’ walk—when it looked as if it ought to be five—from the dock to the old hotel, and when she drew close the building was even worse than she’d imagined. Lucinda knew it was all the rage in places like Los Angeles to pretend that so-called 1950s “style” was exciting and hip. But all that self-consciously cheerful midcentury modernity was pointedly retro and depressingly functional, to her way of thinking. And had no place in this secluded, remote setting. No, thank you. The point of a private island like this was seduction. Mystery and possibility, not the depressingly plain and boxy building that rose up before her like an Eastern European prison.
The setting cried out for magic. Secluded bungalows and private coves, as if the world beyond no longer existed.
Not a squat, ugly horror that was little better than a roadside motel.
Lucinda strode up what might once have been a driveway before the jungle had claimed it and pushed her way into the lobby. It was dark inside, and quiet, and she blinked as she waited for the glare of the sun outside to fade so she could see how bad it really was.
There were potted plants that she thought might be fake, a shame in a place where the hills all around burst with green and bright, fragrant blossoms. Heavy, dark furniture that matched the hotel’s dark walls and made her think of men with thick gold chains and too much chest hair—potbellies and ugly Hawaiian shirts to match. Not exactly the sort of luxury and elegance, wrapped up in a tropical package, that a place like this should offer.
When her eyes adjusted to light, she started—
Because she wasn’t alone.
There was a man sitting there on one of the old couches, his bare feet propped up on the sad wicker table in front of him and his back to the big, open space that led out toward the beach and let the sea in.
Two things occurred to Lucinda at once.
First, that she hadn’t laid eyes on another living soul since she’d stepped off the airplane and left the pilot grinning after her. She hadn’t heard a single sound that suggested there were people anywhere nearby. This really, truly was a deserted, private island.
And of all the possibilities Lucinda had gone over in her head approximately nine thousand times, she hadn’t really let herself think too much about the meaning of that word—deserted—or the fact that she’d gone ahead and marooned herself here with a stranger. A man.
Not just any man. This man.
Which led her to number two. The man she’d come to see was far more devastating in person than in all the pictures she’d studied of him—and she was fairly certain she’d scoured the internet and had found every existing image, because she was nothing if not thorough.
But thorough research had not prepared her for…this.
The man watching her, still lounging there on the old sofa, was…too much.
Her breath left her in a confusing rush she couldn’t control, as if the very sight of him was a swift punch to her gut.
Jason Kaoki lounged there before her, kicked back in what passed for a seating area in the hotel’s sad lobby as if he was as much a fixture as the shiny, fake plants. Except nothing about him was the least bit sad. Lucinda told herself it was the thrill of finally making it here into his presence—after all the calls and emails he’d ignored for months now—that shot through her when their eyes locked. Because what else could it be?
But her mouth was remarkably dry. And there was a shivering thing trapped there, just beneath her skin. Because it turned out the most reclusive of the St. George heirs was a big man.
A very big man, she amended, and more disturbing by far, all of him was…exposed.
Well. Not all of him. Just the entire expanse of his considerably well-muscled chest, with nary a sign of a potbelly, unfortunate chest hair or clanking gold chains. There was a dusting lower down that narrowed as it snuck beneath the band of the long shorts he wore, but his chest was otherwise astonishingly…smooth. Muscled, flat pectorals and a stunning display of ridged abdominals. And there was no reason Lucinda’s gaze should linger there, or lower still, on his clearly powerful thighs in the shorts he wore low on his narrow hips. Or anywhere else on the great and glorious sprawl of him, all of it rangy and muscled and accented with beautiful tattoos, like something out of one of those superhero movies Lucinda was far too busy to see.
Dangerous, something in her whispered, insistent and low. This man is dangerous and you’re a fool to get this close to him.
And goose bumps broke out all over her arms and neck in emphatic agreement.
Lucinda studied him intently, hoping he wouldn’t notice her intense reaction to him. She already knew his stats by heart. That he was six feet and four inches tall and had always possessed this same intense athleticism whether he was playing organized sports or alluring his legion of fans on social media as he surfed and climbed mountains and leaped out of planes. She’d expected him to be attractive in that sporty, relentlessly American way.
But nothing had prepared her for his sheer, overwhelming magnetism. There was something about him that filled the whole of the shabby lobby like a pulse. A flame. As if he was distinctly and inarguably more male than any man she’d ever encountered before.
She felt as if she was breathing him in, and worse, close to choking on it. The mad part was, she wasn’t sure she’d mind.
Meanwhile, he was also far more than merely attractive. No antiseptic word could describe him. His skin gleamed a nutty brown, as if he’d just this minute wandered in from cavorting about in the surf and wasn’t entirely dry. His hair was dark and black and raked back from his face as if he’d used one of his large hands, carelessly. And he had the face of a sinner. Or a very suggestible saint, all arched black brows and knowing dark eyes shot through with a hint of gold.
He looked like a dream lover another sort of woman might conjure straight from the sea in a place like this, made of old volcanoes and deep tropical rain forests. And then spend a lifetime or two trying to please with all that bright fire and heady green.
Lucinda was immediately appalled that she’d descended into such theatrics, even in the privacy of her own mind.
Especially when he smirked, as if he knew exactly where her head had gone.
“Let me guess,” he drawled, his voice deep and rich. Decidedly amused and lazy with it, as if part of him was still stretched out in a bed somewhere—stop it, she ordered herself fiercely. “You came all this way to sell me something. Sorry, darlin’, but I’m not buying.”
“You don’t know where I came from,” she said, almost by rote. Almost as if she had to prove to herself that she wasn’t under some kind of spell. “It could be from the next island over.”
“The next island over is hours away on a plane. And no one who lives there is as blindingly white as you.”
Lucinda might have wished that she had a little more time. To pull herself together. Or back into shape, anyway. To make sure her hair was under control and that she didn’t look as she suspected she did right now—a dripping-wet, likely bright red mess after her walk up from the dock. She could have used time to prepare herself the way she liked to do before big, important meetings.
But she already knew this man would be difficult. She’d expected that. She’d gathered all the information she could from her competitors, all of whom had been delighted to have a drink and assure her that she had no hope of succeeding where they had failed. The man looks for weakness, one of the previous five failures had brayed at her over his martini. Like a shark.
Accordingly, Lucinda didn’t stammer or excuse herself or attempt to ease into small talk. All she did was smile back at Jason Kaoki in all his astonishing flesh, there in the abandoned old lobby.
Cool and controlled, as if he didn’t get to her at all. As if it had taken forty seconds to get here to see him, not forty hours, and she was well rested and perfectly relaxed. And while she was at it, she quickly reviewed everything she knew about this most maddening and elusive of the St. George heirs—the three sons and one daughter who had been revealed to be the old playboy’s children by the same will that had accorded each of them one of his luxury properties.
Jason Kaoki had grown up in Hawaii, bouncing back and forth between the Big Island and Oahu with his mother and her extended family. He’d gone on to play college football on the mainland, had enjoyed a brief stint in the pros afterward, followed by a run of lucrative endorsement deals that continued to this day. He was rumored to spend most of his considerable fortune on philanthropic pursuits all over his beloved Pacific Islands, from schools to veterans charities, though the precise amount of any actual donations he made were always kept winkingly anonymous.
The man put on a good show on social media, but in truth, he liked his privacy. He was hard to find and even harder to pin down to any kind of meeting. When Daniel St. George’s will had been read and this island had come into play, corporate hotel consortiums like the one Lucinda had clawed her way into had taken notice. The others had tried their best to convince Jason to develop this island the way his father had clearly planned to do after he’d built a house here, and fold himself into their well-known brands, but he’d denied them all.
He didn’t need money. He already had a measure of fame. It was almost impossible to talk to him, her contacts had assured her, much less convince him of anything.
But then again, Lucinda had something none of them had.
She wasn’t here representing a tired old brand, for one thing. For another, she was a woman. And better still, she wasn’t the least bit afraid to use whatever feminine wiles she possessed to get what she wanted. What was the point of having wiles in the first place if not to use them at will? She’d never understood why so many people clutched at their pearls at the thought. She assumed they were the sort of people who had been born with a great many weapons at their disposal, so could pick and choose between them to decide which to use. Lucinda had never had that luxury.
And she didn’t need her research to tell her that Jason Kaoki was an extremely heterosexual male, though it had—in the form of a thousand pictures of him with pouting, female arm candy on three continents. Not to mention his often risqué commentary on his romantic pursuits for the benefit of the fawning paparazzi.
She could see it with her own two eyes, right here on this island in the middle of nowhere. She could feel it like another presence in the lobby, a raw lick of flame in her bones. And her flesh. She could see the flare of interest in his dark eyes and the way those black, arched brows rose. The way his almost disturbingly sensual mouth curved as he looked up at her.
She could use it.
So she smiled her best rendition of something seductive. She smoothed her hands down the sides of her skirt to emphasize her hips, and was suddenly glad her blouse edged toward sheer, with the suggestion of her breasts beneath. She had every intention of using the weapons she had when she sat down on the couch opposite him to negotiate.
With her entire body, if required. Because Lucinda was here to win.
By any means necessary.