“Look! Look! Tits or GTFO! Right?” The woman frolicking in the water near Robert Cannon’s float pulled off her top and shook her extremely fake cans in his direction.
He raised his drink to her, inwardly wishing she’d go away and take her friend with her. He touched his Bluetooth earpiece to indicate to her that he was on a conference call, despite floating on a raft at the beach, mixed drink in hand. He was several feet out from shore, and when people paddled closer, he stuck a hand in the water and steered his raft further out, so he could concentrate on his call. “What do you mean, ratings are down?”
“Just that,” said his assistant, voice tinny over the headset. “Reports are in and despite the new shows, ratings are down for The Man Channel by two percentage points.”
Rob swore and took another swig of his drink. Near his raft, one of the beach bunnies grabbed another tanned girl. Looking over at him, they began to make out in an attempt to get his attention.
He ignored them and paddled a bit further out. Fucking typical.
“What about the new show?” Rob asked. Hell, if he was down two points despite the new show, he’d need a much stiffer drink. This one wasn’t doing much to sustain his buzz.
“Naked Frat Party? Well, despite heavy marketing, it looks like we’re not hitting that target eighteen-to-forty demographic. I’m not sure what the deal is.”
Robert swore again. “And advertisers?”
“Already making unhappy noises.”
Great. That was just what he fucking needed. He swigged his drink, emptying the glass and waved it at one of the beach bunnies. On cue, one of the women took it and headed to the shore to get him a refill, her tits bouncing in her tiny bikini. “I’ll make some calls when I get back, all right? Just hold down the fort for this week while I take care of things down here.”
“Any luck with Hawkings?”
“Not yet, but I’m hoping to make some progress.” Rob told him absently, watching the antics of the two women. They kissed again—and then looked over at him to see if he was paying attention. One of them waded back out to his raft, his drink in hand. Rob shook his head. Ridiculous creatures. He’d become jaded on people long ago, and these two weren’t changing his mind, that was for damn sure. He shifted in his raft and adjusted the headset. “I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I want a full write-up of all the overnight ratings and a comparison of ad revenue. Have it to me by the morning.”
“And find out at what point those ratings dropped. Which show tanked? Call me back.”
He clicked off the call and tilted his head back, letting the sun beat down through his Bugatti sunglasses. Fucking hell. With ratings down, he was going to have a hell of a time convincing Logan Hawkings that starting up a new cable channel aimed at white-collar businessmen and executives was going to be worth his while.
Not that Rob couldn’t bankroll it himself. The billions in his bank account said differently. But he wanted Hawkings’s stamp on it, because Hawkings knew everyone in New York City and had a lot of cachet that Rob didn’t. People respected him and his business.
They didn’t respect Rob’s, no matter how much money it made him.
Most of the time he didn’t give a shit. Notoriety had made him as much money as anything else. And if he’d made his fortune capitalizing on cable channels and radio networks designed for the average joe, so much the better. So some of his shows weren’t exactly aboveboard. So what. Tits or GTFO was still popular. As long as there were girls with low self-esteem wanting to get on camera, they’d make money.
And he wouldn’t feel bad about it.
It wrecked his social life, but he’d just cry into his piles of money. Every woman that was even halfway interested in him wanted his wallet, or to be on one of his shows. The only girls he seemed to attract anymore were vapid idiots like the two currently making out and cavorting in the water in front of him just to get his attention. Didn’t care, really.
Rob took the drink that Blonde Number One offered him and tasted it. Strong, just the way he liked it. “Thanks, sugar.”
“So,” she said, giving her body a little wiggle to get his attention. “Think I’ve got what it takes to be on one of your shows?”
“Maybe,” he said absently, taking a bigger swig of his drink. Christ, that was really strong. He took another swig, because why not? He needed to get good and drunk. Two fucking ratings points. Jesus.
The other girl swam up next to him. “I heard you did lines off of Tiffany West’s stomach in Cannes,” she said with a sultry smile.
“Did you? How nice,” he said flatly. He didn’t even know who Tiffany West was, and he sure as shit didn’t do drugs. Alcohol was easy. Drugs just made you end up as someone’s prison bitch. He gulped the drink again, pleased that an alcoholic buzz was kicking in. He’d had three of these babies already, and number four was going to get him good and toasted. Which was a good thing, if ratings were down.
The busty blondes weren’t leaving. One swam up to the side of his raft, nudging it further out into the water. She smiled up at him. “Wanna do lines off of my stomach?”
“I’m busy.” Another call was due to come in any minute now.
“I can save the good stuff for later, if you want to party.”
Fuck that. Party of one in his raft, right here. He tossed down the rest of his drink, enjoying the burn it left in his mouth, and handed it off to one of the girls who watched him expectantly. When they didn’t go away, he looked back over at them. “How about you and you,” he said, pointing at both of them, “go do lines together and leave me the fuck alone?”
One of the blondes gave him a furious look and stormed away. The other wasn’t quite so nice. She huffed up, her fake breasts rising, and then gave his raft a vicious shove.
Rob flipped over and landed in the water, head going under.
Fucking perfect. His head spun and he resurfaced long enough to glare at the women who left. One of those two was going to buy him a new Bluetooth headset, so help him—
One of his legs cramped up, shooting pain through his muscles. Rob bobbed back under the water, thrashing. It was like his leg had locked up. Combine that with his spinning head, and he couldn’t quite get his bearings. He dragged his hands at the water, but only succeeded in getting a mouthful of brine and even more turned around. The current ripped at him, stronger than he’d ever thought. He pushed against it, but he still couldn’t find the surface, and now the water was dragging him farther away from the shore. Huh. Riptide. He thought you had to be farther out for those sorts of things. His lungs were aching, and he tried to push his head back above the water, but it seemed farther and farther out of reach.
Goddamn it, was he going to drown on the beach of someplace named Seaturtle Cay? Really?
But he couldn’t find air. Reflexively, his throat worked and salt water filled his lungs, his mouth, his nose. He choked, and the world started to go black. He was really, truly dying. His last thought was that he’d be in the tabloids for forever now—legendary for drowning in a few feet of water at the beach.
More blackness filled his vision, then red . . . and white polka-dots.
A strong arm grabbed him, and suddenly Rob’s face was hauled against a pair of breasts. Real breasts. He barely had time to process this before more darkness swam through his mind, and he followed it under.
“Breathe,” a voice shouted in his ear, and then lips pressed against his mouth. Air pushed into his lungs—and fuck, that hurt like hell—and suddenly water was coming up out of his throat and his nose and he turned his head to the side, vomiting salt water. His head ached in the most blisteringly awful fashion, and those white polka-dots were swimming in his vision again. But there was sand under his back, and slowly, blearily, he focused his eyes.
An angel bent over him on the beach. An angel with a faint peppering of freckles across her nose, a strong jaw and messy, wet, blonde hair, and dressed in the ugliest polka-dotted swimsuit he’d ever seen. And she was smiling down at him.
She’d saved him. And the look she gave him was so shy and proud all at once, that he felt his heart swell.
Rob was in love.
Oh sweet lord, this man was gorgeous. Marjorie pressed her mouth to the unconscious man’s lips and blew, trying to remember CPR steps that she hadn’t done since the fifth grade. She hoped he wouldn’t mind that a girl like her was mouthing on him, but she figured saving someone’s life took priority over petty things like attractiveness in a rescuer.
So she pumped his chest and blew into his mouth, and on her second round, salt water came rushing out of his mouth into hers, and she pulled away and spat even as she turned him on his side so he could vomit.
A moment later, he turned on his back and gave her a dazed, dopey look.
She couldn’t help smiling down at him. What a cute man. He was dark-haired, had green eyes with interesting amber flecks, and a fantastic chiseled nose. He’d also tasted like alcohol when she’d put her mouth on him—not Marj’s favorite thing—but this was a resort and most people drank.
He opened his mouth and made a garbled sort of sound. Probably a thank-you of some kind.
Marjorie patted his shoulder. “You’ll be all right now, mister. Just take a few deep breaths and maybe lay off the tequila when you go swimming.”
His brows drew together and he grabbed at her hand, which surprised Marjorie. His lips moved as he gazed up at her, but then he coughed again, still squeezing her hand as if he didn’t want to let her go. Shadows fell from overhead as onlookers rushed over to see what was going on. No surprise—they had probably stared at the sight of a stringbean like Marjorie carrying a guy out of the water.
Thanks to her height, she didn’t exactly blend into a crowd.
Still coughing, he squeezed her hand again. She squeezed it back, wondering what he was trying to say. A lock of wet black hair was plastered to his forehead and her fingers itched to push it back. There was just something about his face that she liked so, so much, and the way he looked at her with that interested surprise, not the instinctive flinch she normally got when she towered over men. Of course, he probably didn’t realize how tall she was since she was currently sitting on the sand next to him.
“You—” he began, still wheezing with a wet sound in his throat.
“Everyone get back,” a voice roared, and a man pushed forward in a red lifeguard suit, carrying a red flotation device. “Let’s give him some air.”
Reluctantly, Marjorie squeezed his hand one last time and got to her feet. “I think he’s okay—”
“I said get back,” the lifeguard said, thrusting an arm out and pushing people away as they crowded around the fallen man. “Everyone, please. Let a lifeguard do his job.”
Meekly, Marjorie brushed the sand off her knees and moved back with the crowd. She desperately wanted to look back at the handsome man in the sand again, but that would have been foolish, wouldn’t it? With a small sigh, she found her discarded wrap, tied it around her hips, and headed off to shuffleboard to meet her friend Agnes. For some reason, she felt a little down. It was selfish of her, but she’d wanted to talk to the man she’d rescued, if nothing else, to hear him speak other than coughing at her.
But she supposed that was just vanity—what did she want, a thank-you for saving a man’s life? She mulled this over as she crossed the long, winding beach, heading back toward the hotel. The weather in Seaturtle Cay was utterly gorgeous, and she couldn’t stay down for long. By the time she reached the shuffleboard area, her mood was back to its normal, even keel. Not much kept Marjorie down.
Agnes waved at her from the far end of the shuffleboard court. She was wearing a white, floppy straw hat and had an equally white smear of zinc on her hawkish nose, and she wore the loose floral layers that so many of the elderly seemed to favor. “There you are, sweetie,” Agnes said when Marjorie approached. “We were starting to wonder if you’d ditched us.”
Next to Agnes, her friend Edna had on a pair of enormous red sunglasses and a similar outfit. “Not that I’d blame you for something like that,” Edna said with a titter. “There are lots of good-looking men here.”
“Don’t be silly,” Marjorie said, grabbing a shuffleboard stick. “I wouldn’t abandon you guys. You’re my friends. And I have a great time with you.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be with people your own age?”
“Not at all,” Marjorie said, and then leaned in. “Though I was late because I was kissing a man on the beach.”
Both women gave scandalized laughs. “You what?” Agnes said.
She knew they’d get a kick out of that. With a grin, she recapped the rescue on the beach, going into great detail about how handsome—and helpless—the man she’d saved was. Her friends laughed through the entire story, though they were disappointed at the lackluster ending. “You should have given that young man your phone number and hooked up with him,” said Edna, who was probably ninety-five years old if she was a day. “Tap that ass.”
Marjorie blushed and shook her head. “Trust me when I say I’m not his type.” A guy that good-looking? He’d probably have one of the busty beach bunnies in string bikinis that she saw wandering all over the place. “Now, should we play singles or do you guys want to be a team? You know I can kick your butts at this game with one hand tied behind my back.”
“You’re on,” said Agnes, with a crafty gleam in her eye.
“I told you, I’m fucking fine. Leave me alone.” Rob gave an irritated swat to the paramedic trying to take his blood pressure. “You want to know what my blood pressure is? It’s going to be through the goddamn roof if you keep trying to stick that cuff on me.”
“We have procedures we have to follow, sir,” the overachieving lifeguard told him. Their little party had moved away from the sandy beach and set up in a nearby first aid hut to give them a bit more privacy. Unfortunately, it seemed that that privacy didn’t extend to the lifeguards, who were now hovering worse than the onlookers on the beach. Damn lifeguards. Dudley Do-Right, who had taken charge of the flock of useless lifeguards, spoke again. “Once you’ve been declared well by the medical team, I’ll need you to come with me so we can file an incident report. We take things very seriously here at Seaturtle Cay Resort, and—”
Rob cut him off with an icy glare. He jerked his arm away from the man still trying to put that damn blood pressure cuff on him. “How much do I have to pay you people to go away? Seriously. I’m fine. I was drinking too much, I fell into the water, and that girl saved me. Now if you want to be fucking helpful, you’ll get me her name and phone number so I can thank her.”
“I don’t know who you’re referring to, sir,” Dudley Do-Right said with a frown.
“Of course you fucking don’t,” Rob said, gritting his teeth. “Because you fucking scared her off.”
This was not his favorite afternoon. First the dumb beach bunnies had tried to drown him. He’d lost his Bluetooth headset and his phone was probably buried in some kid’s sand castle on the beach. Then, he’d been rescued from the water by that gorgeous sea nymph with the freckles. And god, it was the first time he’d ever been aroused by the thought of freckles. But as soon as Dudley Do-Right had stepped in, she’d vanished without a trace.
And that was driving him bugfuck. He wanted to know more about her: her name, who she was, if she was single, if she’d laugh at his crass jokes without looking at him like he was a pig, if she’d give him that soft, sweet, adoring look when he kissed her, if she had freckles on her thighs . . .
But that opportunity was fucking gone thanks to the incompetent medical team here at the resort. He yanked his arm out of the medic’s grasp again. “Get the fuck away from me, all of you, before I sue.”
The magic word sue never failed to clear a room. Dudley Do-Right mumbled something about filing paperwork and sending it to him to approve later, and they left him alone.
Rob flexed his arm and stood up. He felt achy all over, and his head throbbed. His throat felt like hell and he wanted a drink. But more than that, he wanted to find his rescuer. The polka-dot girl. Right now, she was his obsession. Because when Rob Cannon had an obsession, he clung to it like a dog with a bone, until things worked out in his favor.
And they always worked out in his favor.
By mid-afternoon, Rob had sent all three of his assistants away from working on ratings numbers and instead people-watching at various locations at the resort, looking for the girl he’d described. One was staked out on the beach, one at the bar, and one at the pool. No one spotted her, and it pissed him off. Either they were incompetent, or she’d disappeared. He refused to entertain that thought. She would be found. He always got what he wanted, and right now he wanted her.
But all afternoon, no sightings turned up, and in frustration, Rob decided to head to the hotel bar himself that night. She was bound to come down for a drink at some point, right? Most of the women at the resort treated the all-expenses-paid bar as an excuse to get plastered on a nightly basis. Surely she’d at least swing down for a mai tai or a piña colada. Then he could thank her for saving his life, find out what it took to get her in his bed, and get her out of his mind so he could go back to work with his head clear and his dick serviced.
So he sat at the bar in the perfect spot to watch the door, ran up a tab on good Scotch, and got progressively more annoyed. Where was this woman? He hadn’t imagined her. If he’d imagined her, she’d have been enormously endowed and not wearing polka-dots, that was for damn sure.
Rob was so lost in thoughts of his mystery girl that he did a double take when the tall man in the expensive suit walked into the bar, looked around, and then headed in his direction. Well, well, well. Rob tossed back his Scotch and stood up, extending his hand as he approached. “If it isn’t Logan Hawkings. Fancy meeting you here.”
Logan took one look at Rob’s extended hand, and then gave him a withering glance.
Well, if this wasn’t a fucking grand start, he didn’t know what was. Rob kept the smile on his face and put his hand down. He’d keep his cool, even if right now he wanted to punch someone. He needed Logan, whether he liked it or not. “Just the man I wanted to see.”
The cold man in the business suit eyed Rob’s Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts, and the drink in his hand. “Security alerted me to the fact that you were here.”
“Gotta love security.” He raised his glass in a mock toast.
“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me why you’ve chosen to lurk at my resort this week?” He sounded pissy as fuck to Rob’s ears.
Lurking, eh? Fuck you too, buddy. “Little birdie in New York told me you’d be here, and I thought I’d come say hello, since you won’t return my calls.”
“I imagine there’s a reason for that.” His hands remained in his pockets, his expression unfriendly.
This didn’t deter Rob. He was used to people icing him out because of who he was and what he produced, but damn it, there was a market there and he’d be an idiot to let opportunity go by. So his “Man Channel” was full of ridiculous game shows and lots of tits? That was what men liked, and the ratings proved it. Before The Man Channel had even been on the air for five years, he had three additional spin-off channels, a few On-Demand channels, and a robust business online with interrelated sites. Business was booming. He’d made billions off of peddling the right product to the right people.
But now that he had money and success, he wanted credibility. And that was the one thing he couldn’t get on his own. Which was why he needed Logan Hawkings. People respected him. He’d been in Time, Forbes, Newsweek, and countless other magazines, as a businessman to watch.
The only rags that Rob made were tabloids. They loved to run stories about which down-on-her-luck boozy actress he was fucking (he wasn’t), which coke-fueled orgy someone had seen him exiting (he didn’t do drugs), and anything else they could come up with. Normally, he let that shit stand because even bad publicity was publicity.
But now that he wanted to bring investors in on a new project? It was working against him.
“I’m telling you,” Rob said, his tone easy. It didn’t give a hint of the frustration he felt at Logan’s stonewall. “I have a business proposition that can make both of us real money if you’d just talk to me.”
“And I’m telling you,” Logan said in that cold, cold voice. “That I don’t like you here this week. The paparazzi follow you like bitches in heat.”
Well, that they did. “Don’t worry. Your ass is too boring for them most of the time.”
The look Logan gave him could have shriveled dicks from a mile away. He moved closer to Rob, and his voice lowered to an angry hiss. “I am getting married this week, and the last thing I want is a bunch of paparazzi mucking up the works. My bride has worked very hard to ensure that everything in this wedding goes off exactly how she wants it to, and I’ll be damned if you show up and ruin this for her. Do you understand me?”
Married? Well, that explained the growly bear act. Rob put on his most charming smile. “Congrats, man. Can I buy you a drink?”
“You can leave the premises.”
“Now, that would be a shame. I’d have to tell all the paps why I’m leaving, and wouldn’t they like to know?” Rob’s smile remained easy despite the menace he was throwing down. “I’d hate to give them fuel to stick around.”
Logan’s glare got colder.
“Congratulations on the wedding, though. I’d love to be invited.”
“You’re not invited.”
“Too bad. I’ll settle for a business meeting with you. Just a half hour of your time. I promise it’s worthwhile.”
“I’m not here on business this week, and this isn’t the way to get my ear.” He leaned in. “And if you ruin my wedding, I will fucking ruin you.”
So defensive over a dog and pony show. The man must truly be in love. Rob smiled thinly. “See you around, then.”