“It might be up for sale, and if so, I figured we should act fast,” I’d said, handing him the article. I’d just finished briefing him on his schedule for the day, and we were moving briskly down the corridor toward a conference room where no less than twelve banking executives from three different countries waited with Charles Maynard, Stark’s attorney, for the commencement of a long-planned tax and investment strategy meeting.

“I know you’ve been looking for potential sites for a couples’ resort in the Bahamas,” I continued, “but since we haven’t yet found a suitable island, I was thinking that in the meantime, a high-end getaway location for families with easier access to the States might have real potential as a business model.”

He’d taken the paper, reading as he walked, and then stopped outside the conference room’s glass doors. I’d come to know his face during the five years I’d worked for him, but right then I hadn’t even an inkling what he was thinking.

He handed the article back to me, held up one finger in a silent demand for me to wait, and then stepped inside the room, addressing the men as he entered. “Gentlemen, I apologize, but something has come up. Charles, if you could take over the meeting?”

And then he was back in the corridor with me, not bothering to wait for Maynard’s reply or the executives’ acquiescence, but absolutely confident that things would go smoothly, and just the way he wanted them to.

“Call Nigel Galway at the Pentagon,” he’d said as we moved down the hall back toward his office. “He’s in my personal contacts. Tell him I’m looking to acquire the island. Then get in touch with Aiden. He’s gone to the Century City site to help Trent with some problem that’s come up during construction. Ask if he can get away long enough to meet us for lunch at The Ivy.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to find my balance. “Us?”

Aiden made sense. Aiden Ward was the vice president of Stark Real Estate Development, and was currently overseeing the construction of Stark Plaza, a trio of office buildings off Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City. What I didn’t understand was why Mr. Stark would want me at the lunch, when his usual practice was to simply fill me in after the fact on any post-meeting details that I needed to track or follow up on.

“If you’re spearheading this project, it makes sense for you to be at the initial meeting.”

“Spearheading?” Honestly, my head was spinning.

“If you’re interested in real estate development, especially for commercial projects, you couldn’t ask for a better mentor than Aiden,” he said. “Of course, you’ll be pulling longer hours. I’ll still need you on my desk, but you can delegate as much as makes sense. I think Rachel would like to pick up some more hours, anyway,” he added, referring to his weekend assistant, Rachel Peters.

“Use the business plan that Trent put together for the Bahamas proposal as a model, and work up your own draft and timeline.” He glanced at his watch. “You won’t be able to finish before lunch, but you can take us through some talking points.” He met my eyes, and I saw the humor in his. “Or am I assuming too much? I thought that real estate was one of your particular interests, but if you’re not looking to shift into a managerial role—”

“No!” I practically blurt the word, my shoulders squared and my back straight. “No. I mean, yes. I mean, yes, Mr. Stark, I want to work on this project.” What I really wanted was to not hyperventilate, but I wasn’t entirely sure that was going to be possible.

“Good,” he’d said. We’d reached my desk in the reception area outside his office. “Call Nigel. Make the lunch arrangements. And we’ll go from there.”

Go from there had led in a more or less straight line directly to this moment. I’m officially the project manager for The Resort at Cortez, a Stark Vacation Property. At least I am today.

Hopefully, I’ll still be tomorrow. Because that’s the question, isn’t it? Whether the news that I received two hours ago is going to shatter the Santa Cortez project, or whether I can salvage the project along with my nascent career in real estate.

Too bad I need Jackson Steele if I’m going to pull that off.

My stomach twists unpleasantly and I tell myself not to worry. Jackson will help me. He has to, because right now everything I want is riding on him.

Considering my frayed nerves, I’m especially grateful that our landing is soft. I slide the magazine into my leather tote, then unstrap myself and wait for Clark to open the door. As soon as he does, I breathe in the fresh scent of the ocean and lift my face to the breeze. Immediately, I feel better, as if neither my worries nor my motion sickness are any match for the pure beauty of this place.

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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