Pleasing her SEAL
This girl might just have the best job in the world! I’m hanging out on a tropical island, the cocktails are free and hotness is a basic job requisite. Because did I mention the good-looking guys are everywhere? Yum. I even ran into a bona fide single guy yesterday and he’s got yours truly thinking that a vacation fling should be part of my plans. Fantasy Fodder—let’s call him FF for short—accidentally bumped into me when I was snapping you some gorgeous photos of the lagoon at sunrise (ladies, you’re totally going to want to do your wedding photos here, although I recommend a less obscene hour than the ass crack of dawn). Then he jumped right into rescue mode and kept Yours Truly from going over the edge of the cliff. So there I am with my very own white knight and rescue hottie, and he’s not even mad that I may have christened him with a venti white mocha. A guy with a sense of humor and strong, manly hands? Sign me up, ladies!
—MADDIE, Kiss and Tulle
There needed to be a fourth, hidden option for people who wanted to increase their odds of hooking up because Maddie wasn’t an A, B or C girl. Her generous coating of SPF-100 sunscreen—thanks, Mom, for the redheaded gene—and a blue-and-white-checked retro two-piece definitely didn’t fall into the string bikini category, although the buttons marching down her hips were a sassy touch she loved. She also appreciated her curves, even if they didn’t always fit into a standard-issue bikini. There was a whole lot of her recently thanks to a post-layoff diet of wedding cake and favors. She needed to plan on buying new clothes or minimizing the sweets.
A mental image of Mason popped into her head. He’d be anything but sweet. Bad girl. Maybe she’d been single long enough to recover from her last disastrous relation ship or maybe it was something about Fantasy Island itself, because the resort certainly encouraged her erotic daydreams with their hunky help. She’d posted about her hot-man-on-a-hillside early this morning. If she couldn’t get an orgasm from him, she’d at least get a blog post. So far, the yeas outnumbered the nays two to one in her “Would you have hot vacation sex?” poll.
Since it was the low season, Fantasy Island didn’t have many guests at the moment. There had only been two other women on the seaplane that had brought her here. Laney Parker had been using up her honeymoon reservation after her fiancé had ditched her, and Ashley Dixon had won a free getaway in some sort of Facebook contest. The low occupancy was undoubtedly the reason why Fantasy Island’s owners had been willing to fly her here for free so she could blog about their awesome resort offerings.
This was her big break. If Fantasy Island bought banner advertising on her blog, she’d be able to keep the lights on in her condo for at least six more months…and having one high-profile client would attract others. Business was like dating. The more popular a girl was, the more guys lined up to buy her drinks and share their contact info. So far, her blog had been a wallflower, but she was determined that those lonely days were over.
And writing about the pool scene was certainly no hardship. The pool itself was all sleek curves. Private cabanas offered guests superb views of the sea, and staff moved discreetly among the loungers, offering fruit kebobs and Evian water spritzes. Ashley waved from a cabana. She wore an electric pink string bikini and held a paperback that almost outweighed her.
Ashley shoved her sunglasses up on top of her head. “Are you here for the cooking lesson?”
Not intentionally, but it sounded like fun, particularly if it came with a side of Mason. She dropped onto the cushion beside Ashley, taking care not to slosh the mango margarita she’d acquired at the bar.
“I could be,” she agreed. “I like free food.”
Ashley nodded. “We’re making mango raspberry crepes with honeyed goat cheese.”
Yeah, that sounded pretty good. “I’m in,” she decided.
And then, wouldn’t you know it, Mason strode toward the pool, and he was the cherry on the sundae. He wore black linen plants that clung to his muscular thighs as he moved. Instead of looking silly in the white chef’s jacket and hat, he looked in control. Confident. He’d rolled his sleeves up, revealing powerful forearms. She was almost certain she was holding her breath, damn it. He was just one guy. One really hot, supersexy guy. His dark gaze slid over her, stopped, and he nodded. She had no idea what that meant. Hi? Glad to see you? Wait, there’s the woman I almost knocked over a cliff? The man should come with a secret decoder ring.
Ashley sat up cross-legged and closed her paperback. “Do you think we have to cook in order to eat?”
Maddie would bet the answer to that was yes. Mason wasn’t the kind of guy you took advantage of, and while she hadn’t asked his policy on free lunches when they’d run into each other at the lookout yesterday, she could certainly venture a guess. While she stared, Mason started dicing mango with easy confidence. She was all thumbs when it came to knives. Mason…was not.
“He’s going to make us work for it,” she said with a petulant frown.
Ashley sighed. “You think he’s a hard-ass about everything?”
“Probably.” If she took her friend’s words at face value, she had to admit that the man certainly had an amazing butt.
“Remember the drinks menu,” Ashley said impishly. “You could take him for a test drive.
The rumored drinks menu, she reminded herself. The menu existed. She’d spent far too much time flipping through the twelve laminated pages of drinks with sexy names like Leather and Lace and Kinky Sex. The question, however, was whether those drink names were really not-so-covert code names for naughty sex acts that could be requested from the staff or other guests. Laney Parker had certainly made a good case for the menu being fact rather than fiction. She’d hooked up with the resort’s super-sexy masseuse and, from her blushes, done some menu exploring with him. It was too bad the other woman had been unexpectedly called home when a new job had opened up for her at a local emergency room, because Maddie had questions. Like could you really just point and pick? For some reason, the notion felt kind of slimy. “Do you really think Mason’s available for that?”
Ashley shrugged. “Ask him.”
“A guy who looks like that isn’t available.” Not in her universe and not with her dating bad luck.
Ashley ogled Mason. “Are you offering him to me?”
No. She really wasn’t. “He’s off-limits,” she blurted, surprising herself. She hadn’t decided yet if she was going for him, but she knew she didn’t want to watch Ashley making a move on her chef.
“He’s all yours,” Ashley said, looking at her over the top of her sunglasses. “But you have to tell me what you’re planning for him.”
“He may not be interested,” she warned.
“Oh, he’s interested.” Ashley grinned and, although they both knew she had no way of being certain about Mason’s interest, Maddie appreciated the support.
Maddie didn’t want to explain how many times she’d met a guy and gone after him, only to learn that he thought of her as the fun friend. At the last wedding she’d attended, the usher she’d been paired with had spent the evening reception hitting her up for the maid of honor’s phone number. His patent disinterest in her own charms had rankled too, because she’d thought they had good chemistry. Clearly, her dating radar was broken.
“Remember,” she said lightly. “I’m always the bridesmaid and never the bride.”
“How many times?”
It took a minute to do the math. “Thirteen. And gig number fourteen is coming up in a month. I have enough bridesmaid dresses in my closet to open my own bridal shop.
Ashley made a sympathetic face. “You think they’d notice if you recycled and wore one more than once?”
“They’d notice,” she said with feeling. She’d dealt with more than one Bridezilla.
Ashley nodded. “So. What’s the plan?
She didn’t have one.
“Pick a drink,” her friend advised. “Imagine the possibilities. I’ll get you started. Dirty Girl Scout. Sex on the Farm. Sexy Alligator.”
“You made that one up.”
“Right here on the menu.” Ashley stabbed the plastic with her finger.
“Alligators aren’t sexy,” she protested. And sex on a farm didn’t sound particularly exciting, either. She was more of a sex-on-a-yacht-with-a-billionaire type of gal.
Ashley shrugged unrepentantly. “Imagine Mason’s face if you asked for that. You could get him to do anything.”
They both turned to stare at him. Nope. Imagining that was even harder than finding the sexy in an alligator. Ashley wasn’t deterred.
“Pink Panties. Sex in the Driveway. Long Slow Screw Against the Wall.” Ashley waved a hand. “Stop me when I get warm.”
“That sounds so cheesy,” she objected. But it also sounded fun. Her stomach hurt from laughing.
“Think of all the ways to improve your love life.” Ashley smirked at her, like finding an improved sex life was that simple.
Maddie stared at her margarita. No easy answer in the mango-flavored cocktail. Even though she was technically here on a working vacation, she’d been encouraged to sample everything the resort had to offer. So she could better describe it for her blog followers. She’d been more than happy to comply. A free week of R & R at an all-inclusive luxury villa? Sign her up. She could do whatever she wanted. Check out the beach. Go to lunch twice. Spend all her afternoons lazing in the sun or lying out at the spa.
She hadn’t considered the implications of being a party of one until her seaplane had been wheels down—did seaplanes even have wheels?—surrounded by happy, honeymooning, we’re-having-fantastic-sex couples. Truthfully? She was lonely. Envious. Horny. As she watched other couples kissing and holding hands and generally getting started on happily-ever-after, she was feeling more than a little left out.
She clutched the mango margarita, fighting the urge to make a face. She had nothing to complain about. Hello, free vacation? It was just that she had kind of imagined that someday she would be the bride and that there would be a Mr. Maddie by her side to frolic on the island with her. Instead, she had another bridesmaid gig lined up for next month, and her lunchtime companion was another singleton she’d met on the seaplane.
Not that Ashley wasn’t fantastic. She was.
A shadow fell over them. “Ladies,” a familiar deep voice said. Mason stood over them, big and stern. Oops.
Maddie knew how to follow orders. Sort of. And definitely in her own unique, impulsive way. Mason probably shouldn’t read anything into Maddie’s attendance of his cooking class, but she was trouble and he had a feeling they both knew it.
After he broke up her gossipfest with Ashley, she bounced up to the temporary cooking station he’d pointed her to like he hadn’t just interrupted a conversation about her dating life. Her bikini hugged her gorgeous curves and made his fingers itch to touch her, to smooth the fabric away and uncover bare skin. Her red hair was pulled up in a ponytail that brushed her shoulders with each jaunty step she took, and she had a pair of big white sunglasses pushed up on top of her head. Her cover up was some kind of wrap thing with fringe on the sleeves that made him think of bedrooms. And getting naked. He thought a lot about getting naked when he was near Maddie.
She didn’t seem to be mad at him about his startling her yesterday, which was a plus. On the other hand, she wasn’t exactly paying all that much attention to him, either. Apparently, she wasn’t harboring teacher fantasies.
Still, he couldn’t help stealing glances at her and envisioning all the ways he could get to know her better. Make her feel better. She’d seemed…lonely. Even though she’d had her cute butt parked next to Ashley and had been laughing and talking up a storm like she always did, there was a hint of sadness in her eyes. Maybe it was just because she was literally here by herself and Fantasy Island didn’t have a swinging singles scene. He’d never seen so many couples glued to each other outside of a porn flick. He’d walked past the Jacuzzi the other night and his eyeballs still burned.
He lined his students up at the table, passed out mangoes, and then knives. Since he only had the four students, giving Ashley a wide berth was difficult but he managed. Guests three and four were a honeymooning couple more interested in each other than mangoes. That was fine with him. Teaching crepe-making was new to him, so the smaller the audience, the better. As soon as he barked go, Maddie obediently went to town on her mango, wielding her knife with more enthusiasm than skill. She attacked the fruit the same way she appeared to attack life—head-on.
She was beautiful, but that wasn’t the reason for his attraction. Or, rather, it wasn’t the sole reason. As hokey as it sounded, when she got close, he wanted to smile. To hold her in his arms and dance her around in a big old circle until she collapsed against him, dizzy and laughing. He wanted to laugh with her—and he’d felt that way since he first landed on the island and had set eyes on her.
She was someone special. And if there was an edge of desperation beneath her laughter, he wanted to know that side of her, too. She wasn’t just the life of the party, even if that was what she wanted the world to believe. And he didn’t think for one second that she was content with standing on the sidelines, watching wedding after wedding. So what did she want?
A piece of mango hit the pool deck. She cursed, nearly amputating her finger, and he decided it was time for an intervention. Her fruit was a mangled mess and he’d sharpened the Wüsthofs himself that morning.
“Did the mango do something to piss you off?”
She stopped chopping with a sigh, pink tinging her cheekbones. “At least you can still tell it’s a mango, right?”
Only because he’d passed the fruit out himself. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to identify the goopy yellow mass. Handling a knife was second nature for him. His Swiss Army knife had gotten him out of nearly as many jams as his combat knife. Reaching around her, he adjusted her grip. “Keep the bottom of the blade on the cutting board. Make sure the tip is up.”
She brightened even as she impaled her knife on her cutting board. “I get points for effort, right?”
Her hair smelled good, like strawberries and coconut beneath the added bonus layer of mangoes. She also had mango juice on her fingers, her front, and her cheek. He tried not to think about all the other places she could have self-decorated.
Focus. “Think squares.”
“Squares.” She sounded skeptical. He moved closer until his front was plastered up against her sweet butt. She inhaled, but didn’t protest.
“First one big square, then four smaller squares, then sixteen.”
“Math isn’t my thing.”
He mentally consulted what he’d dubbed the boyfriend cheat sheet. He needed to compliment her in a meaningful way. Establish a sense of emotional intimacy. Honestly, he had no clue what that meant, although telling her that her hair smelled nice probably didn’t count. A piece of flying mango hit him on the shoulder as he opened his mouth to praise her on her mad chopping skills.
Emphasis on mad.
“Oops,” she said and grinned up at him. He knew a deliberate hit when he saw one. If she wanted to play dirty, he was happy to play with her.
“Can I take over?” She dropped the knife—and leaned back against him.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said and she blushed.
“Chopping’s hard work. You can be my mango boy anytime,” she said, surrendering the knife. If he was smart, he wouldn’t read anything into it. Apparently though, he’d checked his brain when he’d accepted her as his mission, because he could feel a small answering smile tugging at his mouth.
After he’d chopped her mango—and, Jesus, he wished that was a euphemism for something else—he moved down the table, checking on his other students. Ashley had her mango chopped into precise cubes. “Show-off,” he muttered, and she stuck her tongue out at him. All good there. The honeymooning couple at the far end had progressed to feeding each other slices of fruit, and he resisted the urge to tell them to get a room. They had one. They just weren’t using it.
Fantasy Island made a guy think about sex about fifty times a minute. It didn’t help that Maddie was covered in mango juice, making her his very own sweet sticky treat. Her crepe had achieved some strange mutant shape that defied the round shape of the pan. He didn’t know what it was, but it certainly was no circle. It figured she’d make quirky crepes.
He peeled her crepe off the bottom of her pan and gave it a quick QA check. The top was raw and the bottom blackened. With a sigh, he substituted his crepe for hers.
She flashed him a dazzling smile. “Thank you. For the rescue,” she added after a brief pause. He didn’t know whether she meant yesterday on the hillside—or the mangoes.
“I still owe you make up chocolate,” he said gruffly.
Her head whipped around, her ponytail slapping him in the mouth. “You meant that?”
“You bet.” He wiped a smudge of honey off the corner of her mouth. “I live to serve.”
That much was true. His family served. It was their tradition and he was proud to continue it. He’d do what he could do, push to be the best that he could be. Sure, he’d been the first to do it for Uncle Sam rather than Fish & Game or the Forest Service, but he figured service was like Christmas presents. It came in different sizes and shapes and sometimes you had no idea what you were getting, but it was all good. His dad had been a hotshot firefighter. His uncles were firefighters, too. He’d simply picked a different kind of fire, the kind that came with bad guys and bullets…and Maddie. Being her bodyguard detail was a whole different challenge.
She stared at him, evaluating something he couldn’t see. “Tomorrow?”
“It’s a date.”
“Like a date date?” Was that a hint of uncertainty in her eyes? He couldn’t tell, but that was nothing new. He wasn’t the kind of guy who dated much and being an active-duty SEAL made relationships near impossible. He never knew when he would be called up or for how long, which made any kind of connection or friendship outside of his team difficult.
“Makeup chocolate,” he repeated, skirting the whole thorny issue of their relationship potential.
She gave him another assessing look and then grinned. “Okay. Sounds like fun, so why the hell not?”
He, on the other hand, could think of multiple reasons. He was staring down thirty—from the wrong side of the decade. Although he still had all his working parts, he was banged up something fierce. His knees were good; his trigger finger steady. In short, he was a fixer-upper project and she was no carpenter.
“Give me a time, big guy,” she said, leaning in and patting his chest. “So I can prepare properly.”
Yeah. He was definitely out of his league here. Maddie was a dating guru, unlike his sorry self. At the very least, his instant erection was ironclad proof that she’d mastered the fine art of flirting.
“Eight o’clock,” he muttered and beat a strategic retreat.