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Wicked Billionaire by Luke Steel (1)

Chapter One

Five minutes until ten, and she’s not here.

A salty ocean breeze cools my neck and rustles the palm trees lining the Miami cruise ship terminal. The Coral Queen towers next to me, its sleek white hull nearly blinding in the late morning sun. I expected this “perfect for the job” hospitality director to be at least ten minutes early.

I concede the battle against the Florida sun and remove my suit jacket, hooking it over my shoulder. Richard’s Smooth Sail, Inc. is a smaller cruise line that would be the perfect partner for finally carving a niche for my company, Encompass Regency Hotels, in the luxury travel package market. So I decided to cook for the chef, so to speak, by planning a luxury cruise for his management team.

It felt like the right move. Anyone can stand up with a slideshow and some leather folders holding glossy brochures, but I wanted to make a bigger gesture. A show of good faith that also showcases our vision. My vision.

Three minutes until ten.

I pull out my phone and go over the guest list. Richard, that wily bastard, took advantage of my loose wording on the invite and sent over a guest list of thirty-four people last week. Seven days to arrange a premium cruise package for thirty plus people. Why not? My personal assistants have been buzzing like worker bees to line everything up, but I needed a hands-on expert on the cruise for the day-to-day. My team and I know how to run a boardroom, not a promenade deck.

Havana Skye is officially late.

I ponder the notion that Richard recommended someone incompetent as some kind of test I had to pass to get this contract. That would be low, but I didn’t get where I am now by losing my cool in a shitstorm. “She’s done a great job for me in the past,” Richard said. Yeah. I can only assume at this point he’s trying to make me look like an ass and get me to spring for his employee bonuses. He’s probably already got an offer from Eastward Hotels, the chain that’s beat me out the last two times with bigger offers.

Eastward is helmed by a shithead named Kevin East, and they’re not only a step ahead, but they play dirty. They nickel-and-dime their travelers and cut corners on services to make those offers, but no one seems to care past the dollar amount so far. The first time I met East at an international hotel and hospitality convention, he was cheating at cards and stiffing the bartender. Not much has changed.

East knows I caught him cheating, and he’s been a pain in my ass ever since. Nothing pisses off a liar more than being found out. As for Richard, I don’t know why he’d care enough to go this far to make me look bad, but I’ll be damned if I go down with my hands tied.

Cursing Kevin East to Tahiti and back, I scroll through my contacts for one of our Miami metro properties. I might not get the Smooth Sail contract, but I’ll do a good job. Because I always do.

The phone rings as my finger hovers over the call icon, an unrecognized number. I take a breath, ready to fire one Havana Skye, and swipe to accept.

“Hello?”

“I’m looking for Jet Flourish, please.” It’s a woman’s voice, smooth as silk with a polishing school sort of attention to the beginnings and endings of words. Rounded syllables that drop into the air.

“You’ve found him. How can I help you, Ms—?”

“Skye,” she snaps. “I’m sorry, Mr. Flourish, but where are you? I expected you some time ago.”

“The question, Ms. Skye, is where are you?” That’s some nerve. She’s probably stuck in traffic and trying to play me. “I’m on the dock in front of our ship, waiting for you, as I have been for nearly half an hour. How long will it take you to get here?” If she can be there in under ten minutes, she might still have this job.

“You misunderstood me. I believe I see you. Look up and to your right, please.”

It takes a lot to piss me off, but I’m getting there fast today. I whirl around and stare up the curve of the Coral Queen’s prow. Right at the front, Titanic style, a slim woman with dark hair and oversized sunglasses leans against the rail, waving.

I raise a hesitant hand, and she says in my ear, “I’ve been here for hours, Mr. Flourish. I kept waiting for the crew to notify me of your arrival. Would you like to board now to discuss what I’ve prepared?”

“Where can I find you, Ms. Skye?” I nod, even though she can’t see it from this distance.

“I’m in the Ocean Breeze conference room on the third level. Please hurry; I’ve several things to finish before we shove off.”

I’m holding her gaze over the distance as we end the call, and my eyes follow her as she flips her straight black hair over one shoulder and strides away from the rail. My irritation flutters away on the breeze. I might be wildly wrong at this distance, but from here Havana Skye is beautiful and apparently as capable as Richard claims.

This could be an enjoyable two weeks.

I slip my arms back into the jacket and stride toward the boarding ramp. Well-dressed tourists mill around me, headed for their ships. Competing perfumes sour in the heat. I flash my pass at the crew member stationed at the top of the ramp and pass through to the wood-paneled atrium. I ask the kid at the elevator about the conference room.

“Ocean Breeze? Are you Mr. Flourish? Ms. Skye said to look out for you, but we expected you earlier.” I glance at the nametag of the baby-faced redhead in front of me. Gavin. “You’ll be sorry you weren’t, sir. She’s hot.” He winks at me, then flushes as he realizes his faux pas.

I have no doubt he’s right, but I can’t afford to let my professionalism slip.

“Thank you, but I really only need directions to the conference room. Ocean Breeze.” I eye him sternly.

“Right. Yes sir. Third level, left out of the elevator, first door on the left. Your room card should be keyed to unlock that room as well.”

“Thank you, Gavin.”

He leans in to press the third floor button for me as step into the elevator. As the doors close, his tense face falls in relief. Poor kid. These luxury cruises are packed with wealthy women who can pay whatever needed to look good one hundred percent of the time. He won’t last long if a pretty woman keeps him from doing his job properly.

Plush, wave-patterned carpet muffles my steps on the third level. Warm yellow sconces line the wall, so that the sunlight streaming through the windows at the end of the hall seems garish. The key card beeps and I push the door open, still thinking about poor Gavin’s misstep.

She looks up from the array of folders and papers strewn over the conference table and tucks a panel of dark, shiny hair behind her ear. Heavy bangs frame her wide brown eyes, minimally touched by makeup. She looks both polished and natural, and she’s not just pretty. She’s the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. Delicate cheekbones swoop down to a pointed chin, and her glossy lips part. I realize with a start she’s speaking.

I’ve got a lot more sympathy for crewman Gavin than I did three minutes ago.

“Welcome aboard the Coral Queen, Mr. Flourish.”

“Thank you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Havana. Please call me Jet. Richard speaks highly of you.”

“Thank you, Jet.” Her eyes twinkle, but her face stays bland as milk. “We’ve reserved this conference room as a base of operations for the duration of the cruise. You, Richard, and I are the only passengers with keycard access. These boxes hold the day passes for each of the ten excursions we have planned at ports of call. There will be two nights at sea and two port calls without a planned excursion. I plan to greet guests at each meal, and their rooms already have a full agenda with all included vouchers and brochures for excursions. I’ve got welcome packets lined up for when they board. They’ll be opting in or out to all excursions by the end of the first night, so that we can further organize around their preferences.” I’m not exactly a fan of small talk, but Havana Skye eats brass tacks for breakfast.

Most of the time at sea should be seamless, and my only responsibilities will be at mealtimes and for evening entertainment. All suspicions of Richard trying to sabotage me fly. She’s perfect. For the job, I mean.

As Havana Skye talks, I try to keep my eyes in appropriate places, but she takes off her lightweight linen blazer, and I can’t stop staring. It’s a modest, fuchsia silk tank top, not lingerie, for fuck’s sake. But I’m watching the way her chest rises and falls under it and wishing I could drop a kiss on one of her tanned shoulders. She ticks off the excursion details at a rapid fire pace, and I mentally label and file the info. Her command of the information is impressive on such short notice. Memorizing detail easily is one of my most powerful business tools, and she seems to be equally good at it. Ms. Skye just gets more and more interesting.

She checks her watch and drops the folder she’s holding.

“Excuse me, Jet. I’ve got to take care of something. I’ll be quick—I just forgot something and need to run back to my room.” She snags her blazer off the table and shrugs into it.

“No problem, Havana. Do you have access to know whether everyone’s in the terminal by now? Any no-shows?”

“All accounted for, according to the folks at cruise check-in.” She shuffles a packet out of the way and hands me a sheet of paper as she edges past me. “Here’s the complete guest list with their cabin numbers and dietary preferences. I’ll see you at the dock. Our group has instructions to gather there to get packets and board at ten thirty.”

She slings a messenger bag over her shoulder and rushes out. The last I see of her is another flip of glossy black hair as she turns toward the elevator. Bemused by the hasty exit, I scan the roster, which actually has headshots of all the guests. Mostly employees, but a few spouses. They skew older, and I assume seniority was the primary criteria for an invite.

With Havana out of the way, I focus on the material she prepared, memorizing names, faces, and excursion details. Near the bottom of the alphabetized list, I read the name “Jenny Stabler.” A warning bell goes off—she’s Richard’s guest, and she should be marked gluten-free for any planned meals, including the lunch in less than two hours. Shit. Typo or oversight? I pull up the memory of passing Jenny’s meal preference to my assistant. Definitely not my error, but I’ll take the blame if it’s bungled. And of all guests, the arm candy of the guy in charge isn’t the one you want to piss off.

I shove through the conference room door and stride down the hall, going over the conversation with my assistant in my mind as I head toward Havana’s room. The roster helpfully provides her information as well. I stare at the page as if the gluten-free mark is hiding behind the other letters.

Still in full-immersion work zone at Hannah’s room, I absently turn the door handle and step in. A gasp draws my gaze. Havana freezes. I stop dead in the doorway and the door slams behind me. Her hands are in her hair, stopped in the middle of securing some sort of twisted updo. The rest of her is bare except for a sheer lace bra and panties. The pose lifts her perky breasts even higher, though from what I can see—and I can see a lot—they’re already fucking perfect.

From the curve of her waist to the swell of her ass, up her long, lean legs and down the flat plane of her belly, she’s flawless. Her wide, startled eyes narrow into slits, the corners tilted up in amusement, even as her fingers continue to prod her hair into shape and shove in bobby pins. In my line, I’ve seen plenty of skin under exotic suns, and a half-naked woman shouldn’t throw me. But she does. Something in me just answers to her body. My cock goes hard in about three seconds flat, but if I hoped she wouldn’t notice, I’m out of luck.

She doesn’t drop her arms until she’s done with her hair. Her eyes linger on the giant hard-on tenting my slacks. She makes no move to cover herself. We’re openly staring, and she wears this satisfied smirk that excites me more. Because she sees that I want her, and she’s reveling in it.

“Sorry to barge in.” Holding her eyes, heart thumping, work forgotten, I step closer. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Please don’t stand on ceremony, Jet. What can I help you with?” Her eyes are so dark they’re almost black.

“Slipped my mind. However, there might be other topics of interest to us both that should be explored. For everyone’s benefit.” Her breath hitches, the little motion calling my eyes back down to the lace demi-cup barely covering her small, rosy nipples.

In the corner office in my brain, the one always staffed by a little version of me that never goes home, the lights blink out. She looks me over again and sways toward me. My hand steadies her, a palm on the soft skin of her waist. She braces her palms on my chest as if resisting the same gravitational force I feel in the pit of my stomach, pulling me to her. Her breasts just brush my chest.

She pulls away.

“We need to meet the guests on the dock in fifteen minutes, Jet.”

Fuck.

With trembling hands, she snatches up a dress draped over the bed, steps back, and pulls the gauzy fabric over her head. I savor the last glimpse of pebbled nipples as it settles over her, and she half-twirls to present her back to me.

“Zip me up, boss?”

She says it teasingly, but the word boss shocks me enough to clear the lusty fog clouding my brain. The vee of flesh still visible on her back disappears as I slowly lift the zipper.

I clear my throat and make a last effort to bring my libido in line.

“I—ah—came to ask whether Richard’s companion is listed as gluten-free for meals. I don’t see it marked here.”

She frees the paper from my clutching hand and looks it over. “I’m sure I mentioned it, but I’ll check with the kitchen and catering staff before lunch,” she says.

“Thank you. I’ll see you on the dock in fifteen, then.” I straighten my already neat tie and back toward the door. When I fling it open and step through, I stop just short of slamming into Richard.

He gives me a knowing grin, but the smile doesn’t reach his eyes. We shake hands and he grips my shoulder familiarly.

“Jet, glad you’re here.” He lifts his chin and gazes over my shoulder. “No need for introductions, then. I see you’ve met my niece, Havana.”

I smile and give some bland response, but as I walk away, I’m wondering anew—what is his game?