Flirting with Paradise
Billionaire businessman Bradley Peyton can pay for anything he needs...or wants. When his college buddy, Forrest John Maplewood, challenges him to experience how 'normal people' live by posing as an employee at a newly acquired Kona Hawaii Hotel, Brad can't resist. But having it all doesn't mean he knows it all. Undercover and in over his head, Brad is learning money can't buy everything—especially love.
Single mother Hope Gibbons is walking on eggshells. The hotel where she's the Head of Housekeeping has sold. Sweeping changes are coming and her job might be on the chopping block. When she meets the new management trainee, the attraction is palpable and the heat undeniable. He's even great with her young son. Hope is falling fast, but when Brad's secret comes to light, will it prove to be the one bridge they can't cross?
*Portions of Flirting with Paradise were previously published under limited distribution
MORE IN THE SERIES:
Aloha Texas: Beach Read Edition
Almost Paradise: Beach Read Edition
Mai Tai Marriage : Beach Read Edition
Dive into You : Beach Read Edition
Look of Love: Beach Read Edition
Love by Design: Beach Read Edition
Love Walks In: Beach Read Edition
Shell Game : Beach Read Edition
Flirting with Paradise
Want more Small Town Romance?
Check out Chris' Farraday Country Series and her Hart Land Lakeside Inn Series
Enjoy and Mahalo!
Release date: July 22, 2018
Publisher: Indie House Publishing
Print pages: 154
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Flirting with Paradise
"Would you two get a room?" Brad Peyton couldn't even take a leak without his high school buddy Forrest John Maplewood making a move on the girl. Some things never changed. Well, except one. This girl was John’s wife.
In the hallway of the tastefully refurbished Hawaiian home, Ava sprang away from her husband. Much like a teen caught making out on Lovers' Lane by a cop with a flashlight, she patted her hair and smoothed her dress, a delightful rush of pink filling her cheeks. Brad could definitely see why John grinned like an unrepentant fool. They had a good thing going.
"Billy and Angela should be here any minute. I’d better check on that lasagna." Ava slid out of her husband's grip and hurried to the kitchen.
Brad only allowed his gaze to trail Ava as long as was socially acceptable to stare at his good friend's wife. It wasn't that he had a thing for her or anything; he just wondered vaguely if there would ever be a woman in his life who made him feel the way John Maplewood looked.
Not that it mattered. At almost thirty-five years old, Brad wasn't ready to settle down. But watching John Maplewood, the master of charming and aloof, totally enraptured by one woman, made Brad question if it was time for him to reconsider. Ever since the festive wedding celebrations, with every visit to Kona, Brad expected to see their blissful union deteriorating. So far the only conclusion he'd made was that, if he could package whatever these two had and sell it, he'd be richer than the British royal family. And happy as hell.
"Wunkel John!" From the back hall a squealing toddler came hurrying as fast as she could waddle without breaking into a trot—a cat hung precariously in her grip. The poor animal's toes barely touched the floor, scurrying like a hamster on a wheel to keep from being dragged by the cutest little girl with enormous brown eyes.
Brad found himself squatting to the child’s level, a small part of him hoping she'd come share with him, even if he hadn't a clue what to do with her.
“Sorry about that.” A long haired brunette came hurrying after the little spitfire. “She spotted the cat the second we were in the kitchen door and before I could take a breath she’d nabbed Peaches and was off.”
Grinning, John hunched down in front of his niece. "You like Peaches don’t you?”
The sweet-faced child bobbed her head, squeezing the furry feline more tightly John's eyes momentarily flared with the same concern Brad had felt that the animal might lash out. When the cat merely glanced up somewhat forlorn, John blew out a steady breath of air and gently eased her hold on the animal.
“We’ve tried to explain that Peaches is not a doll,” Angela shook her head, and leaned over her little girl. “If you insist on carrying Peaches, you need to hold all of her in your arms."
Gently Wunkle John freed the feline from the little girl's near-strangling grasp, and curled her into the child’s arms. “See, like this.”
The friendlier stance lasted all of a few seconds before a squirming cat found herself once again in a choke hold with her toes barely touching ground.
Billy looked pleadingly at his wife. Brad wasn’t sure but from the doe-eyed look on the man’s face, he suspected he didn’t want to be the one to take the cat away from his little girl. The former Navy EOD tech could dismantle bombs but didn’t want to tangle with a toddler. That a tiny little thing had a bruiser like Billy wrapped so easily around her finger teased a smile from Brad’s lips.
“Time to let go, Sweetie.” Angela slid the kitty away from her daughter and with a single stroke along it’s back—no doubt in appreciation for not scratching the hell out of her daughter—the freed kitty darted away just as Billy whirled the laughing toddler into his arms.
The next thing Brad knew John had zoomed in, and passing the girl back and forth between them, the two men seemed to be playing an animated version of here comes the plane. The spray of giggles that followed siphoned every last drop of stress from Brad's body and had him grinning like the fool on the hill. That pang of doubt that had tapped in Brad's gut a moment ago thumped a little harder now. Maybe he was missing out.
"And this"—winning final custody of the little girl, Billy blew raspberries onto the swath of his daughter's exposed tummy—"is why I take advantage of every moment alone with my wife."
“Sounds like you’re bucking for number two,” John teased.
“Not a bad idea.” Billy winked at his own wife who flushed several shades of rose.
Isabella scrambled from her dad's arms and, this time in a full trot, called happily after Peaches.
The picture looked pretty. But the reality, for most people, was more akin to the real housewives of some depraved city. Screaming spouses, spoiled children, and pets that pissed on the expensive leather furniture. John had married into an amazing family. His newfound Kona clan were a happy anomaly, unlikely to be repeated. And certainly not by Brad. No, he reminded himself. City lights, high-stake deals, and no-strings-attached women made up his happy world. Suburban domesticity was not for him. Nieces, nephews, or otherwise.
"Just a few more minutes and we can sit down to dinner." Ava came back into the front room that doubled as a waiting area for her architectural offices and living room during non business hours. They had a small apartment upstairs, but Brad had learned on one of his earlier visits that when entertaining more than two they took full advantage of the sprawl of the first floor.
“Need help with anything?” John snatched his wife’s hand and squeezed.
At first this humble domestic side of John had taken a little getting used to for Brad. John, like Brad, had been raised in a full-on mansion with servants and every opportunity for some serious spoiling. All grown up and living in LA the man’s apartment consumed the two story penthouse in a building John owned, and from what Brad remembered, he’d never seen the guy open the fridge door, never mind help with a dinner party. Somehow, John had slid easily into this cozy world of domestic middle class bliss. Brad wasn’t sure why it worked so well, but he had to admit, it was one of the most welcoming homes he’d had the pleasure of visiting.
A flash of bright green and yellow frill darted past Brad from across the hall with little Isabella squealing gleefully in the wake of the cat now sporting a doll’s dress.
Ava blew out an amused sigh. "Who knew when that scrawny stray adopted us she’d prove to be the most patient animal in the world.”
“Apparently,” The little girl’s mother shook her head. “Izzy has clearly discovered the joy of motherhood. That poor cat has been dressed up, wrapped up, bottle-fed, burped…"
"Burped?" Brad asked.
"Very patient." John smiled.
"Yes," Ava confirmed. "Very."
John's hand fell casually on his wife's arm, but he continued to face Brad. "Didn't expect to see you in Kona so soon after your last visit. Problems with the Royal Palms?"
“As a matter of fact it’s doing so well that I just closed on another beachfront property.” All it had taken for Brad to fall in love with the relaxing Hawaiian lifestyle was a single visit to Kona for John and Ava’s wedding. When an opportunity to buy into a floundering hotel on the shores of Paradise landed at his feet, Brad didn’t hesitate to buy the Royal Palms.
“I see.” John smiled.
“Besides, I needed to work on my tan." Brad flashed his practiced boyish grin. Experience told him it still carried an impact, even if he was far from a boy. The truth was most of the time one of the acquisitions team would do a final walk-through to evaluate staffing before implementing changes, but this was Paradise.
Ava chuckled. By now she knew him almost as well as her husband did, and, like John, Brad was a no-nonsense businessman who hadn't worked on a tan since spring break during his college years. Truth was, he needed a breather, and Ava probably knew it.
“You can’t blame the guy for not sending a grunt.” Billy came in from the kitchen with a beer in one hand and an ice filled glass of water for his wife.
“Thanks, dear.” Angela took the glass, and shared a quick peck on the lips with the former sailor. Maybe there was something in the water on this island. Brad made a mental note to stick with beer or fruit juice on this visit.
"Whatever the reason,” Ava tipped her glass of wine at him, “it's always nice to see you."
"Thanks." Spinning a coaster in his hand, he turned to face his longtime friend. "You'll get a kick out of this. Got a call yesterday from one of those reality TV shows."
"As the bachelor or will you be fawning over the bachelorette?" Except for the one hand casually rubbing the inside of his wife's palm, John remained stiff and unmoving.
"Ha, ha. Neither."
“Well it can’t be Big Brother,” Billy laughed.
John’s eyes widened a little. “Don’t tell me your crazy enough to run around the world with a backpack or live in the jungle with only a loin cloth?”
Sputtering with reigned in amusement at his friend’s assumptions, Brad set down the coaster and hefted his ankle over his knee. "The show where the head of a company goes incognito to work."
"Oh"—Angela rubbed her hands together—"I love that show. Especially the episodes when the boss makes sweeping changes that affect the whole company. Which of your companies will you infiltrate?"
"None. Apparently the former owner of Paradise Shores Hotel had agreed to participate. I have no such inclination."
"What do you mean no?" Ava's brow crinkled in confusion.
"Don't look so surprised. Why the heck would I want to wear a cheap wig, thick glasses and a fake nose? I already know everything I need to. Once we replace the existing personnel with my people and fully implement my resort standards, it won't take long to turn the outdated and glorified roadside inn into a five-star destination. This walk-through is just a technicality."
"Technicality?" The tone of Ava's voice shifted to one she might use when dealing with an unusually dense underling. "The employees are people with families and bills to pay. They're more than numbers on a spreadsheet. It would do you good to see that for yourself. Besides, some of the TV show participants only need a new hairdo and—"
"Off-the-rack clothes." Brad laughed at the idea. "Like I said, no thanks. I'm not putting on a dog-and-pony show for anyone."
"You'd look good with a new nose," John deadpanned.
"Let me know when you go undercover, and then maybe I'll think about it." If Ava and Angela had not been in the room, Brad would have offered a different comeback. Something hitting a little further below the belt.
"I already have. Sort of.” John shrugged. "Remember I spent my vacation here in Kona as regular Forrest Maplewood, not CEO John Maplewood. Besides if that doesn’t count, Father had all of us work at least one summer in high school for his company. To appreciate the value of a buck. In his infinite wisdom Ironman Maplewood decided I needed to work with the janitor. "
Billy tipped his beer bottle at him. “That explains why you wield a mean mop.”
“Ha ha,” John teased back.
Angela shrugged at Brad “You have to admit. John’s got a point about his visit here. None of us had a clue he wasn’t just an ordinary construction guy.”
"I think you should do it." Ava stared at Brad. "It will be good for you and the hotel."
He could hear the dare in her tone, see it in her stare. Blast, she might not be a business mogul but she had that don’t-mess-with-me stare down pat.
"Why would I want to carve out a week or more of my already overloaded schedule? This place is no different than any other hotel we've bought out. We have a proven takeover strategy. I don't have to see the place to know what has to be done."
"It's one thing to be presented with a shiny new toy. It's another thing to be the person who shines it." Ava crossed her arms, and Brad ignored the prideful smile John bestowed on his wife.
"No," Brad repeated more sternly. The whole idea was absurd. By the time he had turned thirty, he'd bought and sold more companies than his old man had in his entire life. Brad didn't need to play doorman to evaluate the latest acquisition.
"She's right." John Maplewood was an imposing man who could get his way with just a look.
A look that didn't work on Brad. He shook his head.
A buzzer sounded from the kitchen, and Ava pushed to her feet. "Dinner will be served in ten."
“I’ll go get Izzy.” Angela stood and smiled at her sister-in-law. “The cat will be thrilled.”
Crossing the room, Ava paused at Brad's side. "Every good CEO should know what it's like to be at the bottom of the totem pole." Then she walked away.
Shifting his gaze from his wife’s departing back to his brother-in-law who merely shrugged and smiled, and finally settling on Brad, like the cocky jock he'd always been back in school, John cast a wry grin in his friend’s direction. "Afraid you can't cut it?"
"That look doesn't work on me anymore."
John's grin grew. He leaned back into the leather love seat. "I dare you. No TV cameras. No gimmicks. Just you, a false name, and two weeks punching a clock."
This was ridiculous. Why was he even discussing something so absurd? All through high school, he and John had one-upped each other with dares and challenges. Stupid inconsequential things at first, like who could eat more hotdogs without barfing, but, by senior year, they'd coaxed each other into almost everything regardless of cost or risk, but that was years ago. They'd both moved on to the real world. Matured. But still, the look in John's gaze sent Brad spiraling back to their days in the hallowed halls of the East Coast’s most elite prep school, where pissing contests seemed to be the favored pastime. There was no reason for Brad to do this. None. He had nothing to prove. To anyone.
John's smile slipped, his expression blank, his thoughts unreadable, as he leaned forward, pinning Brad with his gaze. "Unless of course, you don’t think you’re man enough?”
Billy burst out laughing, just as his wife and daughter walked into the room. “Oh to be a fly on the wall for this one.”
Brad wasn’t going to do it. There was no reason. No reason at all. Except maybe the two men glaring at him.
* * *
"The guests in Room 202 want you to see the hair left in the bathtub."
Hope Gibbons nodded.
"Room 215 says their trash hasn’t been emptied for two days and—"
"Want me to take a look." She glanced through her scheduling charts. Lani was the housekeeper assigned to both those rooms. Damn. Hope wished it had been anyone but her. "I'll check it out."
"There's more." Nina, Hope's best housekeeper and frequent message-taker, pushed away from the desk. "The school called."
That had Hope's full attention. She had to remind herself it couldn't be serious or Nina would have tracked her down. That was a priority rule never to be broken. Nothing was more important than Jason.
"They want you to schedule your parent-teacher meeting."
Nervous anticipation whooshed out in a single breath. Short-staffed, she and just about every housekeeper at the hotel were working their asses off trying to keep up. "Thanks. I'll get back to them."
"I can cover for you."
"I don't dare. Not now." For the few months, everyone on staff had been on pins and needles since the announcement that the hotel was being sold. A few had already accepted new jobs, anticipating a heavy ax falling on the current employees. Rumor had it that, whenever EastCo Enterprises took over, out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new was the rule of thumb. But Hope was counting on her good record to keep this job.
"Any new word?"
Hope shook her head. According to the grapevine the official change of hands had gone down a few days ago. Now they were all just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Knock, knock." Keith Collier, manager of the Paradise Shores Hotel, stood in the doorway of the matchbox-size office. "Got a minute?"
Nina pushed to her feet. "I'd better see if anyone needs help."
Keith waited for Nina to leave as Hope held her breath. "A call came in early this morning from the new corporate office."
"Things are to continue as usual until further notice."
"Thank God." For the first time since hearing about the impending sale of the hotel, Hope breathed easy. "No more hiring freeze?"
Keith shook his head. "Not exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"Seems EastCo just did a round of hiring. We can have as many new employees as we want as soon as they're done with initial training. In the meantime, I'm getting an assistant right away."
"Yeah." Keith nodded.
Hope knew he'd put in a good word for Sandy and had hoped, once the transition of ownership was complete, the new owner would let Sandy step into the position of assistant manager officially. Everyone knew she'd pretty much been doing the job since the previous one had hightailed it immediately after the sale announcement.
"Does she know yet?"
A long silence hung in the air, and Hope braced herself, knowing what was coming next.
"Listen, I know you're working really hard, and Jason keeps you pretty busy, but the invitation to grab a bite one night still holds and—"
"Thanks, Keith. I appreciate it." She didn't know what else to say. Keith was a nice guy, but she just wasn't interested. Every time he asked her out, she had the same answer. He deserved a nice girl who liked him as much as he liked her, and she wasn't it.
It took him a few seconds of nodding to straighten to his full height and turn away.
Some days she wondered if she shouldn't just say yes and see what happened. There were worse things in life than dating and marrying a nice guy. Plus she did worry about Jason growing older without a strong male influence. But her son was only eight. She didn't have to have all the answers today. For now, even one new housekeeper and a supply attendant would make her day.
* * *
Not for the first time since picking up the cheap rental car had Brad thought this might very well be the worst idea he—or John—had ever had. After only a few minutes in morning traffic, he already desperately missed the sleek convertible he’d had shipped to the islands after his last business trip. Blast John Maplewood. A single challenge and, the next thing Brad knew, he'd instructed his staff to arrange for him to work at the Paradise Shores Resort as a new management trainee. He wouldn't be getting his hands dirty the way Ava wanted, but at least none of the hotel employees would be aware to suck up to the CEO of EastCo.
Nestled in a surprisingly long strip of beachfront real estate and well hidden behind a dense wall of palm trees and flora, his latest acquisition was in the perfect spot to install a luxury resort. Searching for an available employee parking space, Brad headed to the rear of the lot and parked against the wall. As CEO, he would have an assigned space in front. As management trainee, he was going to get some exercise. Walking, he surveyed the property. The place was in better shape than he would have expected from the initial acquisition reports he'd received. Yeah, a few spots needed some attention—some cracks in the drive, some fresh paint here or there, but, overall, the grounds were well-maintained and the stuccoed Spanish architecture fit in surprisingly well with the Big Island beach scene.
Inside the lobby was spacious, bright, and even the outdated palm-tree-upholstered furnishings somehow seemed to suit the idea of a beach retreat. He was impressed. The same furnishings in a much different surrounding could have been a total turnoff. The moment the woman at the front desk met his gaze, she smiled and held his attention. Good. Whoever she was, he'd make sure she was staying.
"May I help you?" asked the blonde with the name tag that read Sandy.
"I'm here to see Keith Collier. I'm the new trainee."
For a brief flash her smile faltered before she regained her perfect posture. "Of course. One moment and I'll get him."
The bustle of early morning checkout had begun. Luggage accumulated at the front door. Outside, in the circle drive, taxis and shuttles collected their cargo. Business was doing well. Better than what he'd expected.
"Bradford Kane?" The hotel manager extended his hand.
It was too risky to use his last name, but keeping his first name and using his mother’s maiden name would make completing this farce somewhat easier. "Yes. Please call me Brad." A firm but brief shake. He was beginning to like what he saw.
"Keith Collier. Today's going to be a bit of a training challenge. We are sold out for the night. My regularly scheduled registration clerk called in sick, and we're short-staffed in housekeeping as well. I'm afraid this is one of those days when everyone chips in. I'll try not to throw you to the wolves, but we don't have a lot of time for showing you the ropes." Before Brad could respond, his new supervisor took off at a brisk pace. "We'll do a quick walking tour. I'll introduce you to everyone."
"Sounds like a plan." From the lobby Brad followed the younger-than-expected manager around like a heeler hound, taking in every word. Keith seemed to know his staff by name and appeared to be well-respected—or at least liked. But then again, Brad knew from experience, appearances could be deceiving. So far he'd met the head of security and had a quick glance at the surveillance systems. The head of maintenance spoke in broken English, and Brad was surprised when Keith replied in passable Spanish. The groundskeepers took a second to nod and mumble "Okay" to Keith's instructions and quickly returned to work.
"We have a good crew here. Most people have been with us for years. It was a bit of a shock to learn the hotel was being sold."
Judging by the tic in Keith's jaw, a shock may have been putting it mildly. Back inside the labyrinth of oceanside rooms, they wound their way into a rear closet that turned out to be housekeeping's main office.
"This is Hope Gibbons, our head housekeeper."
From the doorway he could see a mop of dirty-blonde hair piled atop a head bowed over a desk covered in paperwork and cradling a telephone between her shoulder and one ear.
"I see. Yes. Okay." The phone landed in the cradle, and the blonde mop lifted to expose a porcelainlike face with two bright-green button eyes peering up at him with exhaustion. Those striking eyes homed in on her boss. "That was Sandy. The Red Hat group called to say their flight plans changed. They’ll be arriving before check-in time and asked if we can possibly have their rooms ready by one."
"How many rooms?" Keith asked.
“The airlines accommodated that many people early?”
“Charter flight.” Pinching the bridge of her nose for one second, Green Eyes blinked, then focused once again on her boss. "They requested to be in a single building on the same floor. I've got an update on the few rooms vacated and waiting to be cleaned. Two of the rooms on that floor are frequent-vacationer members and have extended their check-out time. Lani called in sick. Again. I'll do my best."
Keith nodded. "Thanks. This is Brad Kane, the new management trainee."
"Nice to meet you." Hope nodded but turned to grab a clipboard.
An unexpected pang of regret over missing a chance to shake her hand caught him off guard. Nice, and pretty enough, Hope was not his usual fare. He leaned more toward long legs in high heels than the girl next door in flats. If anyone had wholesome written all over her, it was this lady. And those eyes… "Anything I can do to help?" he asked, forgetting it wasn't within his immediate power to do much.
"Any good at making beds?" She chuckled, gripping the paperwork and pen close to her chest.
"As a matter of fact—no." Even in college both his and his room mates’ parents had paid for weekly maid service. The rest of the time no one bothered to make beds. "But I'm a fast learner."
Hope raised a brow at Keith, and Brad glanced over his shoulder in time to see the manager shrug in response. Hope smiled, pushed to her feet, and, turning to face him, stuck her arm straight out to shake. "Bedmaking 101 coming right up."
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