Title: Priceless Treasure
Series: The Lost Andersons, Book Four
Author: Melody Anne
Release Date: October 20, 2015
Summary: Ashton Storm had always possessed a sense of humor, but he tended to be more thoughtless and self-absorbed than his other siblings. He skated along through life, enjoying the finer things. That was until one day his father had enough and gave him an ultimatum. He either did his father’s bidding, or his ride on easy street came to an instant stop.
Though Ashton fought against doing what his father demanded, he finally caved in and took the small boating company his father gave him and made it a multi-billion dollar corporation. Now, he’s back on easy street and he’s alone – but for how long?
Richard Storm was disappointed when his matchmaking plans for his son Ashton and the very sexy, smart, somewhat clumsy, Savannah Mills didn’t work out. But no other woman seemed to be catching his son’s eyes.
Fate has a funny way of working out though, and maybe, just maybe, Richard hadn’t been wrong about Ashton and Savannah being the perfect couple. Because they’re about to finally meet.
“Have we pushed Ashton too far?” Richard Storm took a large gulp of good scotch and looked toward the ceiling as he thought about his words.
“What do you mean?” Joseph asked.
“He’s not the same man he was a few years ago,” Richard said, a heavy sigh showing the even heavier heart inside.
“But the goal was for him to grow up,” George pointed out.
“Yes, to grow up, but not to turn into this hard-nosed robot he’s become. I barely even recognize him anymore,” Richard pointed out.
“I hate to admit it, but I agree. I feel like we all have pushed him too hard,” Joseph said.
“He’s been busting his ass for four years now trying to prove that he’s not just another trust fund baby, that he is worthy of the Storm — and of course Anderson — name. But in that battle he’s been waging, a piece of his soul has been chipped away,” Richard said.
“I love that he wants to make you proud, Richard,” George said.
“He wants to make all of us proud, but this isn’t what I want. Yes, I want him to marry and produce kids, but above all, I want him to be happy,” Richard said, then realized his glass was empty. The stress was almost more than he could bear.
Richard’s two brothers stared at him in concern. The two Anderson patriarchs had been separated from him at birth, and they’d only met decades later, but his pain was their pain. After all, their DNA was almost identical.
“You should look on the bright side, though,” George said. “He used to be a devil-may-care bartender, but now he’s running a wildly successful business.”
Joseph piped in. “And didn’t you tell us that he used to be Mr. Playboy, just tomcatting all around both coasts? And now he’s engaged to be married. That’s another step in the right direction.”
“You’ve met his fiancée,” Richard snorted. “Yes, she has a fancy-schmancy name, and makes regular appearances in the society column. But she’s really nothing but a gold-digger out for alimony. Wouldn’t give him the time of day until she found out about his net worth. Sure, she bats her tinted eyelashes, but she’s no prize — unless you want to call her a prize bitch. … Excuse my French.”
“But what can we do?” George asked.
“I did what I could. I found the perfect match for Ashton. I gave a card to that lovely woman I mentioned before, Savannah Mills, but she never applied for the job I set up. That was two years ago, and now she has a master’s in oceanography. I can’t see her taking a job down at the docks after that.”
“Oh, yes, I remember that now,” Joseph said. “We’ve been so busy with the other kids, I’d temporarily forgotten. I’m not getting any younger, I’m afraid.”
“Do you think we move on from this Savannah?” Richard asked. “She really seemed to be The One, so I hate to give up.”
“No,” Joseph boomed — that’s what he always did. BOOM. “When love is meant to be, it’s meant to be. If she just finished her master’s and she’s set her sights on a PhD, you still have three months before the fall semester starts. Maybe now is the perfect time for her and Ashton to finally meet up.”
“But he’s still got that fiancée of his,” Richard growled.
“She won’t last,” George said. “Think about it. If Ashton sees Savannah, he’ll have to make comparisons, and the gold-digger will flame out. Your son isn’t that stupid, is he?”
“I wish I could be sure,” Richard replied, and a frown took over his face. “As I said, Ashton’s track record with women isn’t the best. And now, with him trying to prove something to himself or to us, he’s making bigger mistakes. Some young men never learn until it’s too late.”
“Ah, those boys, all of them, know how to put on a mask. I know Ashton has a heck of a lot more soul and a lot more character than he’s letting on. Somewhere inside, the real Ashton still resides,” Joseph assured them.
“I hope so, brother, because I’m beginning to think that son of mine won’t figure it out until it’s far too late,” Richard said.
Joseph threw him a determined look. “We never give up on the people we love. Sometimes we just have to bring out the electric cattle prod.”
Richard finally had a ghost of a smile. “Then let’s start planning. I happen to know that Savannah is more intrigued than ever before over sunken treasures. If she can get some free boat rides out to a site where a ship full of treasure is rumored to have sunk, I can see her finally taking that job down at the docks.”
“Hmm. Good thing Ashton does private cruises, isn’t it?” George said with a laugh.
The three men bent their heads together.
A breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean glimmered before her as Savannah Mills stood at the top of the private docks and gazed at another spectacular sunset.
The scent, sounds, and sights of the West Coast had always filled her with joy. It was unlike any anything she’d ever experienced in the whole United States — heck, the entire world, for that matter. Okay, dammit, she’d never traveled beyond these stupid western states, but who was counting? Completely beside the point. She’d looked at the photos on the Internet, and that had to count for something.
When she began moving, she stumbled on the dock, nearly face-planting before she managed to get her balance back. Being a first-class klutz wasn’t what she prided herself on, but nobody’s perfect.
When she reached the gates barring the way down to the docks on the beautiful Orcas Island outside of Seattle — one of the San Juan Islands — Savanna pressed in the code she’d been given. The gates opened without a hitch.
Maybe Savannah loved the ocean because it was endless. If you were on it, you could run away from the rest of the world, never to be found again — unless you wanted to be. That freedom was priceless to her.
She’d been in school for what felt like forever, so this summer was her break. She was going to resist cracking a single book … nah. She knew herself better, and she wouldn’t last two weeks on that mission. But still, she was going to make it at least a week. Plus, she was about to begin a dream job for the summer before she was locked away again in the classroom, the lab, and the library.
Yes, she loved school, obviously, or she wouldn’t have a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in oceanography, and she wouldn’t be pursuing a doctorate once three short months had passed. But in the summer all she wanted to feel was fresh wind on her cheeks and seawater lapping over her feet. Did that make her a bad person?
Nope. It made her free. Free of classes, free of homework, free of late night studying. Free!
She made her way down until she was standing before the boats. Some were smaller than others, but they all were well taken care of, and they all had Sea Storms Enterprise in bold letters across them.
This was a business that catered to those who wanted anything from private boating adventures to a smaller cruise line experience. And she was now going to be a part of that world for the next three months. She reached out to caress one of the boats when she was nearly startled into face-planting again.
“Care to tell me what you’re doing on these docks?”
A shiver rushed down Savannah’s spine at the sound of a deep, dark voice behind her. But immediately after nearly jumping out of her skin, she wanted to kick herself for her fear. Emotions would no longer hold her back, not in this lifetime. She’d had enough of all that.
When she turned, she faced a muscled chest barely hidden from her view underneath a tight button-down white oxford shirt. It took her a little while to lift her head and look into this man’s bright blue eyes. Along the way, she hadn’t missed his lips, still compelling even if they were pressed together in a scowl.
“Are you mute?” he had the effrontery to ask.
She was instantly ticked off.
“Whoa. That was rude,” Savannah said, finding her voice. One hand on her hip, she sent this man a look that had made other males cower before her. No man would speak to her this way again, not as long as she was breathing.
“I’m generally rude to anyone who trespasses on private property — even a woman who obviously thinks that because she’s pretty, she can go wherever she damn well pleases.”
“I was invited here,” she said. “I don’t think your boss will be too happy with you when he finds out how you’re treating his other employees,” she told him with a mocking grin. There was the attitude she’d been searching for.
She refused to let this man belittle or intimidate her. No freaking way. Yeah, he had shoulders that seemed to go on and on, plus a chiseled jawline, and she was more than sure he was aware of all that. Why was it that great-looking men thought they owned the whole damned world and could treat other people like dirt? Whatever. His attitude was greatly reducing his attractiveness in her eyes.
His lips turned up as he took a step toward her, and Savannah felt her heart slam against her rib cage. She stumbled backward a few inches, but she was able to stop herself. Dammit. She wasn’t going to retreat.
“And please tell me who hired you. I’d like to pass the information along,” he said, stepping even closer, way too far into her personal space.
“Mr. Storm,” she said. In your face, asshole!
“Oh, really? You spoke to Mr. Storm in person?” the man asked.
What a strange thing to say.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. He approached me at my university and said I was a perfect fit.” She felt good in her righteousness. This man was obviously a disgruntled worker.
“What did Mr. Storm look like?”
“Why all these questions? I’m sure you know what the boss looks like,” she told him.
“I assure you that I do know what the boss looks like. But I’m not so sure you know how to speak the truth.”
Ugh! “Are you accusing me of something?”
“Isn’t that clear?” he said, and he didn’t even try to hide the arrogant smile spreading across his lips. “I think you’re a liar. I don’t think you’ve talked to Mr. Storm.” He took another step closer. “I also can’t figure out what you’re doing on the private docks.”
“I told you I was hired. Why else would I be here?”
“Because you’re after something,” he said.
“Do you think I plan on taking off with one of the boats?” she asked him.
“Maybe. Wouldn’t be the first time someone tried.”
Damn he was an arrogant ass.
“I’ve never been so insulted in my life,” she snapped.
“I find that hard to believe.”
His smirk was insufferable. Savannah decided that working on the ocean, as much as she loved the idea, wasn’t worth dealing with this monstrous man. She glared at him before taking a calming breath. She wouldn’t yell. That would give him too much satisfaction.
“I assure you,” she said, “that Mr. Storm is going to have words with you.” The man she’d met would never want men like this to be the first face a new employee saw. No way. Mr. Storm had been kind and enthusiastic.
There was also no use in continuing this conversation. The man was obviously convinced he was king of the docks. Something he would be assured soon he was not.
“I somehow doubt that Mr. Storm will be quite pleased I’m escorting you from here,” he almost purred. He then reached for her. Hell, no!
Savannah panicked. She didn’t want this man to touch her. Taking a step backward, she pressed down. She quickly realized her mistake but it was already too late.
It was funny how she noticed the man’s eyes widen. There was no more dock behind her. She was going down — and it was going to be cold.
Ashton Storm froze as this mysterious woman fell backward in what seemed to be slow motion. But the moment she hit the icy-cold water, he was galvanized, and he immediately kicked off his deck shoes and dived in just as her head popped up against the lapping surface of the ocean.
She began pushing against him, not to get closer but trying to get away.
She seemed to be something of a swimmer, but the shock of landing in the Pacific Ocean, which was far from warm water, had him frightened. Would it make her muscles seize up? Would she sink back below the surface? He had to be practical. He wasn’t worried about her. His ass was on the line and this was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Maybe that had been the plan all along. Women, women, women.
“Stop fighting me!” he blurted out after a few moments of struggling with her. She’d been flailing, and she’d hit him in the head more than once.
Surprisingly enough, this wretched woman, a nonentity who hadn’t seemed to hear a single thing he’d said up to this point, did what he’d demanded. She said nothing as he pulled her to the ladder and pushed her onto it. He enjoyed the outraged gasp when he gave her a little push — right on her round little ass. Damn, the woman was beyond fine in the rear part of the department store.
When they were both back on the dock, Ashton couldn’t help but admire Savannah’s long black hair and spitting dark brown eyes. This was no wet-T-shirt contest, but her clothes were plastered to her body anyway. Yep, he could see all she had to offer, and the view was well worth that splash in the ocean.
“Are you happy now?” she growled.
Ashton stopped what he’d been about to say and looked at her in surprise. “You’re going to blame me for what happened?”
“You’re the one who pushed me into the water. You’re obviously nothing more than a … a … bully,” she said, and just then her entire body began to shake.
Even though it was an unusually warm June day, the breeze blowing in off the ocean was very cold.
“I in no way pushed you,” he gasped, but he quickly tamped down his outrage. “However, and that’s a big however, I’ll be the better person here — the better man, dammit — and pause the conversation. Let’s wait until we get inside to continue our little spat. You need to dry off before you catch cold.” He was telling her that as he began moving up the dock. “Looks like you’ll be able to board one of the ships after all. Try not to take it for a test ride.”
“A cold is a virus, not something you catch from a dip in water.” The woman refused to budge. “Perhaps you mean hypothermia. And there’s no way I’m going anywhere with you.”
“Then leave. I don’t really care,” he said. Granted, he was bluffing. His curiosity was piqued and he had to know what this woman’s story was.
“I’m wet and I’m cold. I’m not standing out here arguing with you. If you want to warm up, come inside. If you want to pout like a child, then leave.”
“Pout? Pout?” She rolled her eyes. “Fine! Just give me a towel. I’m sure you people have something like that here on these docks.”
“You’ll have to follow me to get it,” he called back to her, not slowing. But he could hear her footsteps as she trudged reluctantly behind him.
A smile transformed his face as he continued walking. Something about this woman’s attitude intrigued him, and he was actually having fun. That hadn’t happened much lately.
Stepping up to the biggest boat he had in his fleet, the one with his offices on it, he held out his hand to assist her across the ramp.
“I’m fine,” she told him, brushing past him and sending a bolt of awareness right to his groin. This wasn’t good — not good at all. He was engaged to be married, dammit. But none of that seemed to matter to his lower regions, because he found himself leaning against her. And, heaven forgive him, he began whispering into her ear.
“Yes, you are.”
She paused, but only for a millisecond, before she continued moving aboard the exquisitely decorated vessel. He pressed forward past the main dining hall, where up to two hundred and fifty passengers could enjoy meals while socializing.
Top-notch paintings of different regions of the world hung on the walls next to pieces of antique furniture that Ashton had personally played a part in choosing. He wanted his
passengers to have an unforgettable experience, and they always did, leaving his excursions feeling refreshed, pampered, and well-traveled.
Ashton hadn’t skimped on costs — the floors were constructed of blond woods from Europe. The ship boasted the finest fabrics, all in rich colors. The fixtures were antique gold, and not a single surface dared carry any grime or even a speck of dust.
“This wasn’t what I was expecting,” the woman said with a look of awe. “It’s stunning.”
Her comment actually made him smile, which surprised him. But he was proud of all he’d accomplished in four short years. He couldn’t brush off compliments on those hard-won achievements.
“This business caters to those who don’t want to be lost in a crowd of three thousand people. The people who sail with us are a very exclusive crowd. These ships top out at three hundred passengers, but we normally carry fewer than that. There’s yet to be any complaints.”
“I bet the customers are completely satisfied. Man, this would be a dream come true for me. A ship big enough not to get blown over on a dark and stormy night, yet small enough to get to ports the huge ships can’t. Oh, the places you could explore.”
“Is that why you want to work here?” he asked as he moved into his office, and he began to unbutton his shirt. He was done with being wet. So why wasn’t she watching the show?
“It’s why I am working here, at least according to Mr. Storm. And, yes, part of it all is that I love the ocean, everything about it, and all the treasures that are hidden beneath the surface,” she said before she seemed to realize she wasn’t snapping at him. Her shoulders tensed and she looked into his eyes, making him want to take a step back this time. Then she spoke again. “You’re probably the type to hold that against me?”
“Don’t tempt me, doll,” he said, thinking he wouldn’t mind holding himself against her. Shaking his head of thoughts like that, he went through a private door that led to his bathroom. He grabbed two large towels and, moving back out to his office, handed one over to her.
She wrapped it around herself and stood stiffly in front of him. He set his down while he continued to work on the buttons of his shirt. He peeled it away and turned back to face her. Why did this strange woman grow more fascinating by the minute? Hell, by the second. The nanosecond.
“There’s a dryer in the next room. Why don’t you use the bathroom and get out of those clothes?” he told her. Damnation. Now he had a vivid mental image of her naked.
That wasn’t an image he needed in his mind. He was halfway out of his clothes, and what was below his waist hardened painfully. He just hoped that he could keep her from noticing what was happening down there.
“No, thanks. I’d rather stay clothed.”
“Oh, come on. I’m not going to attack you, woman. I have some restraint. There’s a robe hanging on the back of the door.”
Their eyes clashed together, and hers rounded just a bit. Yeah, she wasn’t as uppity as she was trying to make him think she was. Hmm, she definitely appreciated what was now on display. She was watching, and he liked it — he was a man, after all. But he also admired her restraint. As he reached for the buttons on his pants, she quickly turned around.
“I’m freezing,” she said, her teeth chattering.
He just wasn’t sure if it was because she was cold or because she was turned on. Without another word she made a dash toward the offered bathroom. And then the door slammed behind her … and now she was getting naked. This wasn’t at all good. But he had to admire the woman’s temper. As a matter of fact, he found it almost endearing. Whimpering females never had been his style.
Stepping into another adjoining room, he pulled on a dry pair of pants and a black T-shirt. It was safer for both of them if he had thick denim covering the part of his body still refusing to behave. Granted, the T-shirt was tight, but a man had to do what a man had to do.
A little later, she stepped out into his office in his oversized robe, and his mouth actually watered. He wondered if she had taken everything off. She was clutching her wet clothes tightly, and water was dripping onto the floor. This was fancy wood, but who the hell cared?
He walked up to her, and he had to struggle a bit to wrest the clothes from her hands. He was a good guy, wasn’t he? And he took those clothes to the laundry area, which wasn’t far away. When he came back, this woman wouldn’t have any more excuses to escape. For at least the next thirty minutes, it was just the two of them.
A lot could happen in such a short time. But that was yet another thought he really didn’t want crossing his mind. Dammit!
Once back in his office, he sat on the edge of his desk, hoping to regain at least a minuscule amount of his sanity back — and some control over his libido.
So if that was the case, then why couldn’t he keep himself from baiting this mystery woman?
“We haven’t had a proper introduction yet,” he finally said with a smile. And he held out his hand. “I’m Ashton Storm.”
She looked at him and then around the room.
“Yep, Ashton, or Ash, as my friends like to call me.”
“Are you related to Richard Storm?”
“Most days I’ll admit to being his son,” he said. He was really enjoying himself now.
“Oh.” Her earlier starchy attitude seemed to vanish. “So you’re the boss’s son.”
“Nope. Try again.”
This was beneath him. But why was he having so much fun? Hell, how could he resist? It had all come clear. She was obviously there because of his father. On the bright side, at least she wasn’t a thief. That would explain how she’d had the code to get onto the private docks.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“What’s your name?”
“Savannah Mills. Mr. Storm hired me to work down here this summer. I mean that your father hired me.”
“Ah, I see.” He smiled at her, noting the intake of her breath and the way her shoulders seemed to tense.
“What do you see?”
“My father is a practiced meddler. He’s an expert in the field.”
“Mr. Storm, I really don’t understand,” she said.
But he held up his hand and stopped her.
“First of all, it’s my father who’s Mr. Storm. I’m Ashton, or Ash. Secondly, I own this company, Savvy.”
“Your name is too long. If we’re going to be working together, I think I’ll call you Savvy. You seem somewhat smart.”
“I don’t like nicknames, Mr. Storm,” she told him firmly.
“Too bad. I don’t like wasting my breath,” he replied immediately, his eyes narrowing the tiniest bit at her refusal to listen to something as simple as what to call him. Didn’t bode well for an employee of his. “What exactly did my father hire you to do?”
“He didn’t tell me my position. He just said that if I wanted a job down here, it was mine. He knew my qualifications. I told him I was happy to do anything.”
“Anything?” Oh, the possibilities that were drifting through his mind.
“Within reason, Mr. Storm,” she said, that fire back in her eyes.
“I like you, Savvy. You entertain me.”
“That’s not my purpose. I’m a hard worker, and I want to do my job, not worry about sucking up to the boss.”
She blushed immediately, and his pants tightened again, just when he’d about gotten his libido under control. Yep, he was a hard worker, too. And how he’d love to work her over.
“Well, we aren’t all that formal down here. We’re friendly. We work hard, play harder, and give the customers whatever they want,” he said with a wink before adding “within reason.”
“Then when do I start?”
“How about now?”
“I’m hardly ready to begin now,” she replied. My clothes are in the dryer. I haven’t filled out the proper forms, and I don’t know my job description.”
“You said you were willing to do anything,” he reminded her.
“Within reason!” she fired back.
He laughed, not wanting this meeting to end. But he could see she was more than done with wordplay.
“I’ll get the paperwork and you can fill it out while the clothes dry. Then be here tomorrow at eight on the dot. I can’t stand tardiness.”
She looked away before meeting his eyes again, and he could see there was something else. He could also see that she was reluctant to say what it was.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Savvy. I don’t like fishing information out of people.”
“Um, well, it’s that Mr. Storm — I mean your father,” she said, just in case he might have forgotten that Mr. Storm was indeed his father. That made him smile again. “He, um, said that there was a place for me to stay here on the docks while I worked this summer.”
Ashton’s gut turned over at her words. Yes, he had a home outside of Seattle, but during the summer months he spent most of his nights on these docks. Having her that close didn’t seem like the brightest idea to him. Not when he was so damn sexually attracted to her. It didn’t fit into his plans at all, into the way he’d laid out his life. Laid …
“He did, huh?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And where are you currently staying?” Ashton asked.
“I just arrived in Washington today, from California. I don’t have a place here yet. I came straight to the docks.”
Dang it all! She’d be living right here, then. That was a lot of temptation — especially at night. He wasn’t going to share those thoughts, though.
“Well, then, I’d better get you set up.”
He moved forward at the same time that she took a step to the side, and he suddenly found himself tangled with her. The two of them fell, but at the last millisecond, Ashton managed to take the brunt of the fall.
But Savvy landed against him, her robe partially opening, giving him a very enticing view of her nicely formed breasts before he ripped his gaze up to her face.
Screw it. One kiss couldn’t hurt anyone, so he grabbed the back of her head … and a loud bang sounded on his wall as his door was thrust into it.
“What in the name of tarnation is going on?”
Both he and Savvy froze, and then they turned in sync to see the woman standing in his office doorway.
Ashton recovered quickly. “Hello, Kalli. Perfect timing, as always,” he said. He sat up with Savvy in his arms, then scooted her off his lap none too gently as he jumped to his feet.
The woman shot a death glare toward Savvy. “Apparently so,” she told him in icy tones.
“This is my new employee. We bumped into each other and fell.” For some odd reason, he didn’t really give a damn that he’d just been caught completely compromised.
“Yes, of course. That’s what it looked like,” Kalli snapped. To his amazement, though, she quickly regained her composure.
Ashton wasn’t quite sure how to take Kalli’s reaction. She’d just busted him with another woman and yet she was sauntering toward him with a seductive smile on her lips. If the roles had been reversed, he’d have decked the guy she was with and then walked right out of the room and out of her life.
Dressed impeccably as always in a green Versace outfit that hugged her skin, she wrapped her long arms around his neck and planted a cold kiss on his lips.
“I missed you, darling. Why don’t you introduce us?”
Ashton couldn’t seem to find his voice quickly enough, because Kalli turned from him and faced Savvy, who looked like a frightened mouse stuck in a trap.
“Since my fiancé seems to have lost his voice, I’ll go ahead and introduce myself. I’m Kallista Blanche Huntington-Hart. Ashton and I are engaged to be married.” She held up her hand to show off a gigantic diamond.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Hart. I’m Savannah Mills, the newest grunt employee.”
There was just enough of a spark in Savvy’s eyes for Ashton to see that she wasn’t in the slightest bit intimidated by his fiancée. Hot damn, if that wasn’t sexy, too. Double dammit! He couldn’t help it, but his opinion of Savvy went up another notch as the three of them stood in his roomy office.
“Hmm. A grunt, huh? I figured.”
Instead of responding to that, Savvy turned toward him. “If you can give me those papers, I’ll get them filled out and give you two some privacy.”
Privacy. Yeah, he looked forward to having some with Savvy. But that might be a bit difficult with his fiancée hanging around. What to do, what to do? Why did life have to be so effing difficult? Especially right after it had become so much better.
Well, then again, adversity only brought out the best in a man, didn’t it? What doesn’t kill me …
He was doing the right thing.
This was his mantra, the one he kept repeating to himself as Kalli continued talking, her fingers waving in the air as she moved around the desk and about seating charts and who couldn’t be near who — sorry, near whom –- and other boring-as-hell stuff.
No. That wasn’t something he should be thinking. Kalli was perfect for him, perfect in every sense of the word. She was blue-blooded, sophisticated, beautiful, and respectable. She was the ideal mate to produce heirs while keeping in ranks with a successful man like himself.
She was the sort of wife a man in his position was supposed to marry.
So if that was all true, why in the hell did he keep wandering to his office windows, the ones overlooking the docks, just so he could catch another glimpse of his newest employee. And where did she get off wearing such inappropriate attire?
Even as he thought that, he knew he was being an ass, and he was also close to getting off. Yes, she was wearing shorts, but so were most of the men and women out there. It was just that he didn’t get a hard-on watching his male employees while they walked around in board shorts. Hell, not even when watching the other women.
There was a god after all, he thought, almost smiling.
But Savvy was wearing a pair of shorts that hugged her thighs and showcased the muscles in her calves as she stretched up to scrub the side of one of his boats. As she reached higher, her top crept up and he got an enticing view of her toned midsection.
Damn, one week on the docks and her creamy skin was already getting a nice golden glow to it. It looked good on her — really, really good.
“Are you listening to a thing I’m saying, Ashton?”
Kalli’s irritated voice pulled him away from those straying thoughts. Turning away from the view and focusing, or trying to, on the woman he was soon to marry, he plastered an unreadable expression onto his face. Yes, he was about to be married, and it would be best — and brightest — to remember that.
“Of course, darling,” he told his fiancée. “It’s just that we have a lot going on down here at the moment.”
“You always have a lot going on, Ashton. But our wedding is important, too,” she said with a pout.
“I agree fully. I’m sorry,” he told her as he moved across the room and commanded himself to give his full attention to this beautiful woman, a woman polished in every way.
“Good.” Then she began babbling again as she pointed to little squares on the giant piece of paper in front of them.
He only lasted about sixty seconds before his head was turning back toward the windows. How much longer was this going to take?
Great! This was all done. He’d kept his eyes open during the bit about who was to sit where during the upcoming ordeal, or ordeals, to get technical.
No, of course it wasn’t done. She grabbed his hand and led him over to another table in his office, and he saw a giant notebook was sitting.
“I’ve finalized the reception menu. Javier has outdone himself, I’ll have you know,” she said with a brittle laugh.
Why hadn’t he ever noticed how annoying that sound was? As soon as he thought that, he shook his head. There was something seriously wrong with him today. He had to remind himself again what a great catch this high-society woman was.
“Why don’t we stop planning for a few minutes?” he said as he reached for her, pulling her against his body.
“Ashton, I have an appointment in one hour. We have to get as much done as possible,” she told him, pushing against his hold.
“It can wait.”
He leaned down and kissed her, urging his body to respond, to feel passion, heat. Finally, she reached up, wrapped her hands around his neck and pressed against him. After a few moments, he released her mouth.
“That was lovely,” she said before tugging against him again.
This time he let her go. Dammit! There had to be something seriously wrong with him, because Kalli was flawlessly beautiful. He had no idea whether everything was real, but it was definitely spectacular.
And he hadn’t even managed to get an inkling of an arousal with that kiss.
Kalli opened the wedding planning book, and Ashton found himself wandering back over to the window. What he saw certainly stirred his blood far more than that kiss just had. Savvy was out there. She seemed to be sidling up to one of his men, flaunting all her charms, and it was going to stop.
“I’m going to have to cut this meeting short, my … my … my love. It appears as if there’s a problem on the docks,” he said. He was making sure his anger wasn’t showing in his voice.
Just then her phone went off. Talk about being saved by the bell. Or the ring tone. Whatever.
“That works out well, because that’s my mother texting. The appointment was moved up.”
Within seconds, she was packed up and walking away. Ashton stayed where he was, gazing out the window. He wanted his temper to cool down a bit, and he definitely wanted his fiancée gone before he went outside.
“I might have to admit that nothing is worth this grunt work. Not finding treasure, not working on the ocean, not getting my PhD. Nothing.”
Grumbling as she stretched as high as possible to clean the side of the boat, Savannah almost slipped and took another nosedive into the cold Pacific Ocean. For once, her klutzy limbs didn’t fail her, though, and she managed to stabilize herself.
But she really hated ladders, and she knew only too well that falling into the water would be even worse the higher up she was. Basic physics plus an earlier experience these week. Luckily, the boss hadn’t been around for that little mishap, her second plunge into the brine. She was tired, sore, ready to give this up and to go back to the library.
But, no, she had never been a quitter, and she wasn’t about to start now. No way, no how. Plus, this was good. She’d put on about ten pounds in the last couple of years. Working on the docks this summer should help her shed that in no time at all.
There. She’d managed to find the end of the rainbow, the pot of gold and all that. And she felt much, much better about it. This was a workout she was getting paid to do. Yay for her.
“You know you’re working entirely too hard,” a co-worker told her. “The boss is tied up for at least the next few hours. I saw his aristocratic bride-to-be bringing in the big book of wedding planning.”
“I saw that. But just because Mr. Storm isn’t watching, that doesn’t mean I’m going to slack off,” she told the fellow.
“I say we take a little dive into the water and cool off — and then warm back up.” Weston said this with a giant wink.
Her co-worker had been flirty since she’d joined the crew. As a matter of fact, most of the men were pretty dang open with their catcalls, and their double entendres had been less than double in the sexual department. But the guys were harmless for the most part. Weston, on the other hand, had made it beyond clear that he wouldn’t mind a romp in the sack.
He was about her age, and he’d been giving her the eye and making up to her ever since she’d arrived on the docks. She really wished she felt something for him — he was great-looking, with sun-kissed blond hair, Miami Vice stubble on his jaw, and twinkling
blue eyes. He was also tall — who didn’t love that in a male?— and he had a smile that could replace the sun.
But so far, the man hadn’t inspired her to actually accept a date. Dang it!
“I think it’s safer if I just finish my work so I can take a long shower and then make it out to my deck to stargaze later tonight while I drink a beer.”
“Don’t most women prefer wine?” he asked, edging a little closer.
“I don’t do stereotypes,” she informed him. “And after a hot day, nothing tastes as good as an icy-cold beer from a can.”
“But you can always suck harder from a bottle,” he told her with yet another wink.
Savannah couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing. If she’d actually felt threatened by the man, it would be an entirely different story, but she knew she was safe. Sure, he’d like to date her, but his pride wasn’t wounded when she turned him down.
“I wonder why you’re still single, Weston, with suave lines like that,” she finally said as she patted his arm.
“Is this a brothel, or do either of you actually do any work?”
Savannah froze. Crap. Just what she needed right now — to be busted by the boss. She threw a quick but savage look to Weston, who’d told her only a little while ago that the boss would be tied up for a while. Her co-worker had been wrong. Weston just winked for the third time and scampered off. Traitor!
Now she was alone with Ash and something was wrong. Big surprise.
“Yes, Mr. Storm. I have been working, as you can see,” she said. “However, the longer you stand here scowling at me, the longer it’s going to take for me to do what I’m being paid to do.”
He seemed taken aback by her boldness. Why was that? Hadn’t he seen it at their first meeting? She did her best to be sociable, but she did have a backbone, and it was almost always in evidence now. She’d grown it from the fists of her father and from her years of study. She wasn’t going to be pushed around anymore. That time was over for her.
“Did you happen to forget that I’m your boss? If I need to speak to you, don’t you think it wise to listen?” he finally said.
“Of course, Mr. Storm.” She could play the obedient little employee if that was the role he wanted her to play. But he’d better not expect her to cower. That would be asking far too much.
“Good. Now come with me. Some of your forms are incomplete.”
He turned, and the man had no doubt that she was going to follow him. And there was no reason for any doubt, after all. She had to do what he wanted and that was the advantage he held over her. But she couldn’t stay completely silent.
“Shouldn’t I tell Tom? He’ll wonder why I’m not on the job.”
“It’s been taken care of,” he replied, and he didn’t slow his stride.
Savannah had to fight to keep herself from exploding. Dang it. This man wasn’t really doing anything any other boss wouldn’t do. But he and she hadn’t gotten off to a great start, and she certainly knew how to hold on to a grudge.
She promised herself that she’d work on that.
When they stepped into his office, Savannah’s eyes immediately went to the spot on the floor where they’d been tangled up a few days ago. No, nothing had actually happened. The two of them had fallen into each other. Nothing more. He hadn’t been about to kiss her. That had all been in her head.
Okay, she could lie to herself all she wanted, but she’d seen the look in his eyes. It wasn’t as if she’d never been kissed before. She had — plenty of times! Okay, who in the heck was she kidding? She’d been kissed a few times, and the first one wasn’t until her freshman year of college. That kiss had sucked. The next few guys hadn’t gotten much better.
So she bailed out. Why fool around until she found a guy who lit her on fire? That had yet to happen. Sure, she’d had plenty of opportunity. College guys were just plain horny, ready to rock all around the clock. But she didn’t want her first time to be with some drunken frat boy who stuck it in her and then fell asleep with her pinned beneath him.
It wasn’t asking too much to hold out for more, was it?
And even though her boss had stirred more feelings in her in the span of a few minutes than any other man — or boy — ever had, she was not going to act on that. The man had a fiancée, after all. And Savannah wasn’t going to be a homewrecker. If only she could convince herself to quit lusting after the man. It was hormones. That’s all it was. She knew science, and she could get over this.
“Are you going to answer my question?”
Ashton’s question snapped her out of her daze. Wow. He was irritated.
“I’m sorry. I missed what you said.” Embarrassment heated her cheeks. Only one thing saved her pride. He had no clue where her mind had just been. If he did, she’d have to quit right then and there.
“I said that I’m going to start training you to be able to go out on our cruises. I’m short-staffed in that department right now, and I expect all members going to know their jobs inside and out. Within a month, if you do well, you’ll be able to go on a voyage. Are you interested?”
“Oh, yes, yes, for sure,” Savannah told him, elated at the possibility of hitting the ocean. “When does the cruise leave? Which ship are we taking? Where is it going?” She fired questions off without giving him a chance to answer.
“Most likely our Alaskan voyage, where we stop in Sitka, Glacier Bay, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor before heading back home. I’ll train you for the main ship, where we have approximately two hundred and fifty guests on board. You would work the cleaning crew.”
“I’ve cleaned before. It won’t be a problem. What about free time? Do we get any?” she asked, then thought that sounded rude and decided to clarify. “I didn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the job opportunity or that I won’t work hard. But I love cruising the seas, and I’m excited about going to new places, really getting to see them.”
“You’ll work specific hours. The rest of the time, barring emergencies, you will have plenty of free time.”
“How long are we in each port?”
“Since we limit our stops, we’re normally in each place for two days and one full night. We cruise overnight to each new location.”
“Thank you for this chance, Mr. Storm. I promise you I won’t mess it up,” she told him. She was beyond ecstatic, and without thinking, she jumped over to him and threw her arms around his neck. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”
Big mistake. She realized it the nanosecond her arms were around Ashton’s neck. But before she was able to pull away, he was clasping his hands behind her back and drawing her against him.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking,” she gasped.
“I happen to like this impulsive, affectionate Savvy,” he said, not allowing her to escape.
Panic set in. She couldn’t, in any way, allow them to do a repeat tango on his floor. Why didn’t she think before acting? She’d been asking herself this for a very long time.
“Well, it’s inappropriate,” she told him, tugging against his hold again.
This time he let her go. She took several steps back and did her best to create as much distance between them as humanly possible.
“How so?” he said, an obvious challenge.
First she sputtered at him. Then she did what she always did when she got overstressed. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, counted to ten, then took a cleansing breath. When she reopened her eyes, he was looking at her strangely, but he hadn’t moved. That was good.
“Did you forget that you have a fiancée?” Wow. Her voice was calm, rational. She was very proud of herself.
“What does that have to do with our sharing a moment together with a friendly hug?”
“Oh, you are so smooth, aren’t you, Ashton?” She didn’t even think about her slip of using his first name. “Is that how you justify cheating? Do you say that it started out friendly, and then that somehow things got out of hand? Are you really that guy?”
His eyes narrowed the longer she spoke. She was ticking him off. Good. She’d rather have him mad at her than lusting after her. Especially when she wasn’t immune to his charm.
“Are you finished, Savvy?” He was eerily calm. She nodded. “Fine. Now it’s my turn. Yes, I find you attractive, and, yes, I can see us setting off some fireworks in the bedroom. But, no, I don’t cheat, not ever.”
“So you weren’t about to kiss me the other day?” She decided she wasn’t going to back down. It was better to get it all out on the table now.
“Yes, I was. But I would have stopped at that.”
“Are you proud of that?” She was beginning to lose some of her cool all over again.
“It was just going to be a little kiss,” he said, as if she were being unreasonable. “No biggie.”
“So you wouldn’t care if your fiancée shared a little kiss with another man?” she asked.
His reaction wasn’t what she’d expected.
“You know what?” he said, his lips twitching. Then he waited.
“What?” she finally demanded.
“I don’t think I would.”
He took a step toward her, and that’s when Savannah decided she’d better cut her losses and get the hell out of there. She’d been strong. She’d said what she needed to say, but now it was time to go.
There was the real possibility that she was going to get out on the ocean. And she wanted to be on that boat when the next cruise sailed. So there wouldn’t be any more goading of her boss. That meant she needed to stay at least twenty yards from him at all times.
Shouldn’t be too hard.
About Melody Anne: Melody Anne is the author of the popular series, Billionaire Bachelors, and Baby for the Billionaire. She also has a Young Adult Series out; Midnight Fire and Midnight Moon - Rise of the Dark Angel. She's been writing for years and published in 2011. She hold a bachelors degree in business, so she loves to write about strong, powerful, businessmen.
When Melody isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and pets. She lives in a small town that she loves, and is involved in many community projects.