Chapter 1 Paradise wasn't everything the brochures made it out to be. I hadn't even arrived and I already wished I could fly home to the States where my cell phone worked and retail therapy beckoned from every corner. Then again, it wasn't like my cell had been ringing off the hook since quitting my job and breaking up with my lover who also happened to be my boss, and maybe it was time to curb my spending habits anywa. According to the brochure on my lap, Paradise Island was more of a foodie's heaven. It had a bar, known as a pub in the local Austalian slang, eight restaurants, two cafes, an ice cream parlor, and a grocery store. The grocery store better sell wine, otherwise I'd get on the next flight back to the mainland. Hardly any clothing stores—just the one—limited cell service and no wine did not a paradise make. Not in my book. "This island is stuck in the last century," I said to the man standing behind me in the queue to board the flight, if two people can be considered a queue. "We might have to use our feet to move the cars, Flintstones style." I chuckled at my dumb joke. He didn't even look up from his phone, giving me a view of the top of his head. It was a nice head, all glossy dark hair, and attached to a tall body with broad shoulders, but it was difficult to gauge his physique with his suit on. He wore a jacket, tie and crisp white shirt with polished black shoes. Who wore a suit on a tropical island, especially on a hot day? And who went alone? A businessman, maybe, traveling to the island to conduct business with the island's owners who lived there. My new employers, as it happened. New employers, new home, new life…so far removed from my old one. I blew out a breath. I could do this. No regrets, Kasey Mannering. Be brave and give it a shot. "There are electric buggies," he said without looking up from his cell. "And the Flintstones lived in ancient times, not last century." Oh-kay. A humorless businessman with a penchant for historical accuracy. I turned away, leaving him to his scrolling, just as a man dressed in a pilot's uniform swept past and pushed open the glass door that led to the tarmac of the small regional airport. "Sorry for the delay," he said over his shoulder to us. "You both ready?" "About bloody time," the businessman behind me muttered. "I heard that," the pilot said cheerfully. He smiled and winked at me and I smiled back. He was handsome, but not in an overt way, with lovely eyes the same color as the northern Australian sky. "Don't mind him, he's always grumpy." The businessman sighed. I half expected him to push past me in impatience, but he waited his turn as the pilot checked my ticket against his list. It was a very short list. A small frown connected his brows and he glanced up. "Have you two met?" he asked, nodding at the man behind me. "No," I said at the same time the businessman asked, "Why?" The pilot handed back my ticket. "No reason." He grinned and indicated we should follow him out the door. He didn't ask to see the other man's ticket. The heat blasted me as we left the air conditioned airport lounge behind. It was a Florida kind of heat, the sort that melts your eyeballs and makes you damp in uncomfortable places. The Australian tropics were no place for a New York girl with uncontrollable hair at the best of times. At least I'd dressed the part in a peach colored summer dress, unlike Suit, now striding across the tarmac to the small plane with PARADISE ISLAND sprawled across it in aqua writing. "This your first time to Australia, Kasey?" the pilot asked, shortening his steps to keep pace with me. I nodded. "First time to Australia, first time on an island, first time on a plane that looks like it belongs in some kid's toy chest." He laughed. "It'll be fine. The weather's good today, hardly a breath of wind, and I've flown that thing hundreds of times." I didn't tell him that his declaration surprised me. He only looked about my age, twenty-six. I didn't want to offend him. He thrust out his hand. "Campbell Walker. Everyone calls me Cam." I stopped. "Walker?" He stopped too and shrugged. "Yes, I'm one of the Walkers. Don't hold it against me." I laughed, but it was more nervous giggle. "Sorry," I said, continuing on to the plane where the suit waited, gaze once again lowered to look at his phone. "I wasn't expecting my pilot to be my new boss." "I'm not your new boss. I'm the brother of your new boss." He glanced at the plane. "Your boss is the oldest of the five of us. He's also the grumpiest, has the quickest temper and zero charm. Good luck, Kasey, because you're going to need it." Great. Just what I needed, an asshole of a boss. Actually, that was precisely what I needed. There was no chance of falling for an asshole boss. No chance of ending up in his bed after a work function, and no chance of him dumping me three weeks later because I wasn't what he was looking for, and no chance of quitting my job because I couldn't work for my ex. Yep, an asshole of a boss was just what I needed. "Hey, Jacko, this is Kasey," Cam said as we reached the plane. The suit looked up and my breath left me in a rush. He was handsome in a stiff, CEO kind of way. The dark hair framed the defined angles of his face, with its chiseled jaw and sharp cheeks. And those eyes! Cam's might be the color of the sky, but Jacko's were the blue of the ocean I'd flown over on my way to mainland Queensland. The thick black lashes only made them stand out more. A girl could get lost in those eyes—if he ever let her peer into them long enough. He gave me a quick once over then nodded a greeting. "Nice to meet you," he said. To Cam he asked, "How long before takeoff?" Cam looked to Jacko, to me, then to Jacko again. He rolled his eyes. "Just as soon as we're cleared." He opened the plane door and held out his hand to assist me up. "My luggage?" I asked. "Already on board. We're not some Mickey Mouse operation here, Kase." "Wouldn't know it," Jacko muttered, climbing in after me. The plane could only hold eight, including the pilot and co-pilot, but with only two passengers, it felt vast. Jacko ignored me and sat near the front. Once we were in the air, he pocketed his phone and read some paperwork instead. So much for idle conversation to pass the time. It was going to be a quiet half-hour flight. I gazed out the window, unable to look away from the crystal clear water and the tiny dotted islands up and down the coast. The brochures didn't do the colors justice. Light blue to dark and every shade in between was represented, broken only by the lush green vegetation of the islands and curved white beaches. Somewhere down there was the Great Barrier Reef and my new home. Okay, so it really was paradise. I could get used to working and living here, despite my asshole of a boss. "This is beautiful," I said. Jacko didn't hear me over the drone of the engines. He wasn't interested in the view at all. Maybe he'd seen it dozens of times. I'd never get tired of such a view, no matter how many times I saw it. If the airport on the mainland had been small, the airport on the island was tiny. It consisted of a single runway built out over the water. I'd seen barns larger than the terminal building, and we had to carry our own luggage from the plane. To my surprise, Jacko carried my bag for me since he had none of his own. He'd almost not offered, but seeing me struggle with it, he'd taken it off me. Not asked, just taken. If I weren't so grateful for his help, I would have told him to back off. "Thanks," I said as he deposited the bag in the terminal. There were only two other people around, both of whom greeted him. "Can you tell me where the bus stop is?" "Just outside," he said, checking his watch. "It leaves every half hour but you just missed it. If you're staying for a while, you should hire a cart. Talk to Karen." He nodded at the woman behind the counter wearing a t-shirt with the Paradise Island logo of palm tree and beach embroidered on the pocket. "She'll help you out." Karen had been sitting on her chair behind the counter, her shoulders slumped, but when she noticed Jacko and I looking at her, she straightened and turned on a bright smile. She wiggled her fingers in a wave at us. Jacko nodded. I waved back. "Thanks," I said to Jacko. "So, you're here for business or pleasure?" "I live here." He fished keys out of his pocket, his gaze on the glass exit doors. So much for small talk. The man wasn't as chilled as I expected an Aussie islander to be. I expected someone like Cam, with his easy-going smiles and broad drawl. Jacko looked like he never enjoyed downtime on one of the many beacheswe'd flown over. I couldn't imagine him relaxing, although I wouldn't mind seeing him dressed in nothing but bathing shorts. Or just nothing. I had a feeling a nice chest and shoulders hid beneath that suit. "You live here?" I said. "That's so cool." Ugh. I sounded like an idiot. He narrowed his eyes. "Right." "Thanks for carrying my luggage for me." "No problem." He looked past me toward the door again. "I have to go." "Maybe I'll see you round." "I doubt it. It's a big island and I'm busy." Oh-kay. He made to head off, just as I asked another question, delaying him. "Do you work on the island too?" One corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk. "Yes." "It must get hot working here dressed like that." He loosened his tie as if I'd just reminded him he wore it. "I had a meeting on the mainland." He cleared his throat and looked like he wanted to get away. He mustn't work front-of-house in one of the hotels or activity centers on the island with that impatient attitude. If he did, I'd have to take note and give him a warning to up his game. If there's one thing Americans did well, it was service with a smile. So far, all the Aussies I'd met at the airports had been friendly, but this guy…well, this guy just sucked at customer service. "Enjoy your stay," he muttered as he headed off. It sounded like something he said a hundred times a day, and hated every time he said it. "Nice attitude," I muttered back. He stopped. Rounded on me. Those hard planes of his face got even harder. "Did you say something?" I swallowed. Confrontation wasn't my strong suit. I preferred sarcasm spoken so quietly that no one heard it, especially not the intended recipient. Head up, Kasey. You're Jacko's boss's assistant and he needed to know that he was always representing the family company when he was on the island. "Um, it's just that I'm going to be working here as the new assistant to Mr. Walker and I wouldn't want you to come under fire for not treating a potential guest on the island the way a guest should be treated. Not that I'm a guest. I'm staff, but you didn't know that." He turned and faced me fully, again giving me a once-over, but this time as if he actually saw me. I expected him to laugh off his mistake to try and get me on his side, but he simply flattened his lips and blew out a breath through his nose like a bull about to charge. "You're Kasey Fielding," he said. My lips parted in a gasp. "How do you know?" He thrust his newspaper under his arm and plucked my suitcase off the floor. "Come with me." "Hey!" I trotted after him. "What are you doing? Where are you going?" I glanced back at Karen but she simply smiled and waved again. She didn't look concerned that my luggage had been taken hostage. "My buggy's outside. I'll take you to your place." He shoved the door open and once again, the heat nearly knocked me off my feet. Jacko simply strode ahead to four parked golf carts. "Why didn't you tell me who you were back on the mainland?" "I did." "No," he ground out, "you didn't." Hadn't I? "Okay, well, now you know. Actually how do you know who I am? Do you work for the Walkers too?" He wedged my large suitcase into the small backseat of the open-sided golf cart—buggy. "I am a Walker." "You are? Which one?" But as I said it, I figured it out. Jacko. Jacob. He was Jacob Walker, the eldest brother. My new boss. Crap.
Chapter 2 "Why didn't Cam say something?" I said, more to myself than Jacob. Jacko. Whatever. I hugged my purse to my chest and tucked my feet inside the cart. Jacob turned the key and the cart engine hummed quietly. "Because that's Cam, always having a laugh at everyone else's expense." "Having a laugh or just having some fun?" I studied his profile as he concentrated on the road ahead. It was so forbidding, so serious, that I swallowed heavily. This man was my new boss. The closest he'd come to a smile so far was a smirk. He'd hardly even spoken to his own brother, and hadn't so much as welcomed me. He looked like he wanted to get to where he was going fast, with minimum fuss and as little talk as possible. I bet he was a hard case to work for. I doubted there were many office parties or after work drinks, and I bet he never mixed business with pleasure. That made him polar opposite to my last boss, and I couldn't be happier. There was no way I'd fall for Jacob Walker. Suddenly it all seemed kind of ridiculous. The sun shone and the air smelled of tropical flowers, but the man beside me looked like he should be on the stock exchange floor. I was surrounded by bright colors and warmth, and Jacob was all brooding black clouds and cold shoulders. Not only that, but he drove a vehicle that moved slower than my grandmother's mobility scooter with a fiercely determined expression on his face. I couldn't help the giggle that escaped. He glanced sideways at me. "Something funny?" "No. Nope. Nothing." "You're laughing. At me?" "I wouldn't dare." He grunted. "No wonder you got along well with Cam." "He seems like a nice guy." Jacob remained quiet. He didn't think his brother was a nice guy? "I'm sorry about before," I said. "Which bit?" I had more than one thing to apologize for? Already? Sheesh, I'd hardly known him five minutes. "For sort of threatening to have you fired for not being friendly enough to the guests." The driver of a passing cart lifted a finger and said, "Walker." Jacob lifted a finger off the steering wheel and nodded back. "Tucker." I guessed that passed as a friendly greeting here on Paradise Island. Or maybe that was just Jacob's way with everyone. "You were right to tick me off," Jacob said, taking me by surprise. "I expect all the staff on the island to be friendly to guests. If not, our reputation suffers. Keep it up, Kasey. You're off to a good start." Clearly he didn't consider himself 'staff' or he'd have been friendlier. Probably wise not to mention that on my first day. Actually, it wasn't my first day yet. I started tomorrow. I'd been employed as Jacob's personal assistant. As head of the Walker family, he ran the business—the business being the island. He and his four brothers owned the entire island, and every building on it. They leased the hotels, apartment buildings, stores, and everything else on the island to businesses, but each business had to abide by the family's rules. I'd gathered that much from the information given to me by the employment agency. Jacob's parents bought the island thirty years ago and built it into the tourism empire it was today. Then five years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Walker disappeared while out in their boat. The boat had been found adrift, and the police declared them drowned after a thorough search. No trace of them had been found, but apparently they'd been heard arguing before leaving the island and Mrs. Walker's blood had been discovered on the boat but none of their personal belongings had been taken, including the wallet full of money. None of that had been in the agency brief. I'd learned it all on the internet, along with the speculation surrounding the disappearances. One rumor even suggested the brothers killed their parents to inherit the vast fortune and business empire. I looked sideways at Jacob and swallowed heavily. There couldn't have been anything to the rumors or the police would have done something about it at the time. The street we drove on—if the narrow stretch of bitumen could be called that—crossed another one. It was a veritable highway with two buggies motoring along it at a snail's pace. A handful of pedestrians made use of the footpath running alongside the road. Palms and other tropical trees and bushes, some with bright red trumpet flowers dripping off them, hid what looked to be cabins. "This is the better part of the island, but not the best," Jacob said. "It's more for couples wanting a quiet retreat without kids. It's not the most exclusive or expensive area." He pointed to our right as we crossed the intersection. "Down there are the two main hotels." Just as he said it, I spotted the high rises stretching up to the sky. Behind them loomed the largest of the island's two hills. "To the left is the marina, the yacht club and the village. Any supplies can be bought down there, and that's where you'll find most of the shops and restaurants, although there are a few more up near the hotels." "And where are we going?" I asked as the cart headed straight ahead, up what must be the island's second, much smaller hill, if the map I'd memorized was correct. "This half the island is for houses and a few apartments. They're mostly lived in by permanent residents, but some are rented out to holidaymakers. Beyond those, at the tip of the island, is the exclusive resort for the super rich." We passed tourists walking alongside the road, dressed in loud shirts and sarongs, some with children in tow. They all looked happy, their hair damp from the pool or sea. A small boy crouched down to inspect a lizard the size of his arm ambling across the path. I smiled and looked around. The wind whipped my brown hair into my mouth. I dragged it away but few strands stuck to my lip gloss. "This place is absolutely breathtaking," I said. "You must love living here." He said nothing as we passed a small wedding chapel on the right and a kindergarten on the left. Driveways led to secluded properties, but it was impossible to see much more than roofs. Then suddenly the trees thinned and there were no more houses, just the view from the top of the hill. And what a view! The long, crescent beach to the right looked so inviting. Small sailboats launched from the beach and paddle boarders took advantage of the calm conditions. The sea stretched to the horizon, skirting neighboring islands. Sunlight glinted off the water like diamonds and brightened the white sails of a yacht rounding the northern end of the island. Truly amazing. "Can we stop here for a photo?" I said, pulling my phone out of my bag. "Not now," Jacob said, eyes on the road. I snapped a photo anyway but it came out blurred. "Damn." "You can walk back up here from your place." "Oh, okay." "The tourists like to watch the sun go down," he said. "Sunset provides some good shots." "Just the tourists? You don't like to watch the sun go down from here?" He hesitated then said, "No." Right. Not a romantic then. I should have guessed. We drove a short way down the other side of the hill before Jacob turned into a driveway. A single level building emerged through the sweet smelling trees. It was all wood and stone and quite long. "This is where you'll be staying," he said, stopping near the garage. "Until you find something more permanent." "How long do I have to find a place?" He merely shrugged, as if that was a detail he couldn't be bothered with. He lifted my case out of the back seat and carried it to the door. That's when I noticed the building was divided into three dwellings, each with a separate garage. He opened the door to the end one—it wasn't locked—just as the door to the central one opened. A woman of about sixty dressed in a long flowing bohemian dress and a pink head scarf waved. The deeply tanned flesh under her arm wobbled. "Yoohoo! Jacko, who have you got there?" "Christ," Jacob muttered. "Get inside, Kasey." He used his superior physical presence to hustle me through the door. "Just my new assistant, Aunt Em," he called out. "Oh, lovely! I'll bring biscuits, just baked fresh this afternoon." "I think she wants to be left alone for now. Jetlag." He shut the door so we couldn't hear her answer. "You'll thank me for that one day." "I'm not so sure about that. Freshly baked cookies—biscuits—would be nice right now. I won't have time to get groceries before the store closes." He pointed to a box on the kitchen bench. "Milk, cheese, cold meats and other perishables are in the fridge. I told Tony to send up a few basics. You can go into the village during your lunch break tomorrow and get more." "Tony runs the supermarket?" "You got it." He headed through a door while I surveyed my new apartment. It wasn't big, but it was stunning, from the gray stone benches to the polished floorboards and comfortable modern furniture in the living room. The sleek kitchen was fitted out to a high spec. The glass doors led out to a deck that afforded a view of the island surrounds similar to the one at the top of the hill. I couldn't see another building, although there may have been one beyond the trees down the slope. "Yoohoo!" Jacob's Aunt Em peered around the wall separating my deck from hers. She smiled, her teeth blazingly white against her leathery skin. "Hello, Neighbor. My name's Emma, but you can call me Em." She reached out her hand and I shook it. "Kasey," I said, smiling. "Most people call me Kase. You're Jacob and Cam's aunt?" "I am. You've met Cam?" "He flew me here." "Such a lovely boy, and so dashing. He's available, you know." "Pardon?" I spluttered. "He's single, and quite a catch." "I imagine he is." Most girls would jump at the chance to date one of the Walker men. As equal stakeholders in the island, they were all billionaires. Em leaned around the wall so far that I worried she'd fall off the deck. She thrust a plate at me. "Butter biscuit?" "Thank you, that's very kind." I bit into one and it just about melted in my mouth. "This is delicious!" She grinned, but it faded as her gaze slid to a point past my shoulder. "She looked hungry." "You should have given her some time to settle in," Jacob said on a sigh. Em's smile returned with a vengeance. "Biscuit?" I thought Jacob would refuse just to prove a point, but he took one. "You know I can't resist these." His eyelashes fluttered in bliss as he ate. I found I couldn't look away as he devoured the biscuit as if he hadn't eaten all day. For those brief moments, he shed his hard, cool businessman shell and revealed another side of himself. A softer, warmer side, that I hadn't expected. Maybe he wouldn't be such an ass after all. He licked crumbs off his fingers but left one crumb on his lower lip. "As good as always, Aunt Em." I expected her to tell him about the crumb but she didn't. She looked at me then flicked her gaze at him then back at me. Her smile spread. Did she want me to tell him? "Another one, Jacko, Kase?" "I have to go." Even as he said it, Jacob took another biscuit off the plate. "If there's anything you need, Kasey, you have my number." "I wouldn't want to bother you," I said. "You're busy. Is there someone else?" "My assistant would normally handle this stuff." He arched his brows at me. "Since that's you, I guess not." "Oh. Right." "Just give me a shout," Em said. "I'll tell you where the best places to eat are." Jacob turned his back to his aunt and mouthed, 'Sorry' to me. I pressed my lips together to stop my smile. She seemed really sweet to me. "Your buggy is in the garage, charging. Instructions are on the coffee table. If there's nothing else, I'll see you tomorrow." "Um, you have a little crumb…" I licked my lower lip. His eyes turned smoky. "Huh?" "A crumb…" I reached out automatically then snatched my hand away. "On your lip." He licked it off, slowly, his tongue caressed his lip. Did he do it sexily on purpose? Or was he unaware how he looked doing it? I decided on the latter. I didn't even want to consider the former. "You can read a map, can't you?" he asked. "Sure." "There's one inside. Use it to help you get to the village in the morning. You'll find my office above the art gallery. I expect you there at nine, sharp." "What time do you get in?" "Eight." "Then I'll be there at eight too." He frowned. "Why?" "I'm an early riser and since there's no traffic, waiting until nine seems like a waste of time." He held my gaze a moment then gave a curt nod. "See you at eight." I refrained from saluting, even though I felt like it. I was about to follow him back inside when Em whispered my name. I returned to the wall. "Well done, Kase," she said. "He likes you already." I doubted he liked me, just my early mornings. "He seems…nice." What else could I say to his aunt? She snorted softly through her nose just as I heard the front door close. "You're joking, aren't you? He's the cold-hearted one, the big brother who thinks he has to keep the family together." "That doesn't seem so bad. It's nice that he's got a big family, and I'm sure the other brothers appreciate having him look out for them." She wrinkled her nose. "You're an only child, aren't you?" "Yes. How did you guess?" "I know people." Oh-kay. I gave her a flat smile. She eyed me closely, taking in my summer dress, my simple sandles, and brown hair in need of a wash. In fact, all of me was in need of a wash. I'd been in transit for thirty hours and I must stink. Great. My new boss had probably smelled me all the way here. "I think you'll be good for Jacko," Em said. "He's been too busy to replace his last assistant after she moved to Melbourne, and his work piled up. He's always in a bad mood these days. A woman like you can whip him into shape." "I'll do my best, but it'll take a few weeks to really settle in to the job." "A few weeks?" Her face fell. "Can't you try harder?" "I'll do my best." "Good." Her gaze slid to my legs. "Wear more skirts and dresses like this one." "Pardon?" "You've got nice legs, shapely. And don't worry, they'll have a nice tan by the end of the week." A phone rang inside her apartment. "I have to go. Toodles." "Um, toodles to you too. Thanks again for the biscuit," I called. I went into my own apartment, pausing on the threshold to look at my legs. They were pretty white. What the hell did she mean that I should wear more skirts and dresses like this? Was she referring to the short length? It skimmed my mid-thighs, way too short for work. Besides, I'd packed business skirts and shirts for work, along with sensible pumps, just like I wore at my old job. If Jacob's attire was anything to go by, that would suit him too. I unpacked my bag and set a reminder to chase up the rest of my luggage if it hadn't arrived by the end of tomorrow. Then I filled the bath, adding in some salts. The bath stood on a raised platform in the bathroom. It overlooked the deck and spectacular view beyond, but could also be seen if Em poked her head around the wall. I decided to risk it and leave the blinds open to see the view. Once I was submerged in the bath, only my head would be visible anyway. Thankfully Em didn't disturb me and I got to watch the sea change colors as the afternoon wore on. My only onlooker was a kookaburra that came to perch on the deck's rail. Parrots flittered past but didn't stop, their deep red, green and blue feathers so eye-catching. Boats of all shapes and sizes returned to the island after a day's outing, heading around the other side to the marina. The view was better than TV. I eventually dragged myself out of the bath and dried off. The apartment was almost secluded enough to walk around without clothes on, but this city girl couldn't bring herself to do so. Instead, I wrapped the towel around my body and checked the supplies Tony had delivered. Apparently Tony expected me to eat a lot because the fridge and box were full. Aside from the essentials, he'd packed some exotic cheeses, eggplant dip, three different types of cold meats, and all kinds of salad greens. The effects of jetlag and the warm bath conspired against me and I couldn't be bothered cooking or driving to one of the restaurants. As much as I wanted to check out the sun setting on the other side of the island, I couldn't bring myself to leave the apartment. Tomorrow night. Tonight, I needed to chill out. I made myself a salad and sat on the couch with my laptop. My cell had already told me there was no connection, and although some of the island had WiFi, it didn't reach my apartment. There was nothing on TV so I pulled out my ereader instead. Ten minutes later I could hardly keep my eyes open so I shut them, just for a moment. I must have fallen asleep on the couch because when I awoke, the birds were having a party in the trees and the first rays of the sun peered over the horizon, all psychedelic oranges and pinks. Dawn had arrived in paradise. I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the sun rise higher over the water as I called my mother using the apartment's landline. After a jog down to the base of the hill and a walk back up to my apartment, I showered, ate breakfast and changed into my work clothes. I found the keys to the buggy with the apartment key beside the map. It took me a few minutes to work out how to drive the buggy and then I drove up to the lookout and down the other side of the hill to the main intersection. There were a few joggers out and some mothers pushing strollers, but not many. I had the road to myself until I passed a few buggies leaving the marina, takeout coffees in the holders by the steering wheel. The peak tourism season was a month away, according to my research, but if I were a guest, I'd want to come now when it was quiet. The cafes were the only places open on the marina's esplanade, and they seemed to have a brisk trade serving breakfast and takeout coffees. I drove past all the restaurants, stores, and water sports centers to the end where the iron gates of the private yacht club blocked the road. I made note of the location of the grocery store, chemist and bottle shop which would certainly be getting a visit from me later. I found Jacob's office easily enough, right above the art gallery. The door was locked but it wasn't yet eight, so I waited. The smell of coffee soon became too tempting so I headed into the cafe three doors down and ordered a takeout. "American?" the girl taking my order asked. She couldn't have been more than eighteen, her blonde hair tumbling over her shoulders in beachy waves, her face tanned. I nodded. "From New York." Her eyes lit up. "No kidding! I'm dying to go to the Big Apple. So what brings a New Yorker to Paradise Island? The weather?" "Work. Today's my first day." "Yeah?" She eyed my business skirt and shirt with a look of sympathy. "I'm guessing you're not working for any of the water sports activities or the animal sanctuary. The yacht club? No, you wouldn't need to come here for coffee, they serve it in their restaurant all day. I give up, where's your new job?" "I'm Jacob Walker's assistant." She looked at the guy making my coffee at the machine. They both screwed up their noses. "Oh," she said. "Is there something wrong with working for Jacob?" "He's kind of hard on his assistants." "That's why Tori left," the guy said over the noise of the milk frother. "She worked crazy hours trying to keep up with him and burned out. She moved back home to Melbourne." The girl leaned over the counter. "I heard it was something else. Sure, she worked hard, but…" She glanced around the cafe. I leaned closer. If she said Tori had an affair with Jacob, I was going to scream. No way did I want to work for another guy who slept with his assistants. Granted, my ex, Brent, didn't exactly have prior form before he slept with me, but it would be stupid to head straight into another job where the boss had a history of it. "I heard that Tori and Jacob didn't get along very well," the girl said. I let out my breath. "In what way?" "She was a bubbly, bright person, and he's, well, he's…" She looked to her co-worker who handed me my coffee in a takeout cup. "He's all work and no play." He smiled at me. "Tori couldn't handle it. She tried to get him to loosen up, but he just got grumpier and grumpier. It drove her nuts." I lifted my cup. "Thanks for the tip. I won't try and change him. Actually, a grumpy boss suits me just fine." They both looked at me like I was already nuts. I thanked them and headed out of the cafe. I heard the girl say to the guy, "Americans are so weird." The door to the office was unlocked when I got back. It led to a carpeted set of stairs that opened out to a reception area decorated with indoor palms. No one sat at the desk so I headed past it. Behind the reception area was a meeting room, and beyond that was a kitchen then a large open expanse with a single desk, filing cabinets, printer and other office equipment. "Hello?" I called out. "In here," came Jacob's deep voice from an adjoining room. I set my bag on what I expected was my desk and entered his office, a space almost as large as my old apartment in New York. Whereas my old boss's office was all sleek steel, Jacob's desk and cupboards were made from a rich, warm timber. They did have one thing in common—the wall of glass looking out to a spectacular view. In Brent's case, the view was of the New York skyline. In Jacob's, it was the boats bobbing in the marina and an endless blue sky. "You're late," Jacob said. My gaze snapped to him. "It's ten minutes past eight. You wanted me here at nine." "True, but you said you'd be here at eight." "I was. The door was locked so I got coffee." I held up my cup. "I would have got you one but I didn't know how you took it." It just occurred to me that the girl in the cafe might have known. I should have asked her. "I had a coffee before I left home." He opened his desk drawer and held out a set of keys. "Tomorrow, let yourself in if you arrive before me." No sheepish apology, then. Okay, I could live with that. I took the keys. "Want me to get you a coffee in the mornings? I could even get here ten minutes before eight so I won't be late." He leaned back in his chair and studied me. I felt excruciatingly conspicuous, especially since he didn't wear a suit today but casual shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and no tie, and I wore business attire. "Very funny," he said. He wasn't laughing. Whoever said Aussies had a great sense of humor hadn't met Jacob Walker. I kept a straight face too. "Actually, I'm serious. Do you want me to get you a coffee in the mornings since I'll be getting myself one?" He lifted his chin. "I take it black, no sugar." He rose and indicated I should walk ahead of him out the door. He spent the next ten minutes showing me around the office and getting me logged in to the server. Apparently there was no receptionist; that was my job, too. The IT guy worked remotely from the mainland, coming over whenever necessary. It was just Jacob and me, working together. Alone. "Such a large company and yet so few office employees," I said. "I hire project managers when necessary on a project by project basis," he said, sitting on the edge of my desk. "I take care of all the financials. Legal and accounting are hired out, too. It's not easy getting staff to work here permanently. Despite everyone saying they'd love to move to an island to live, they usually find reality is very different to the dream. There's a kindergarten here, but no schools, so that excludes anyone with school-aged kids. There are no nightclubs and the pub is the only bar. Nighttime entertainment is limited, and so is the shopping, so anyone who wants a fast lifestyle hates it. That's why I was surprised a New Yorker took up the job offer." "I haven't always lived in New York. Mid-west born and bred. New York was where the best jobs were for P.A.'s, and I wanted to work for the best." And I had—until I screwed my boss and had to get the hell out of there. He cleared his throat and looked down at his shoes. "We're isolated here. Flights are a half hour from the mainland and the ferry takes nearly an hour. Our guests are mostly families with a few high-end ones who keep to themselves. So unless you want the quiet life, this isn't the place for you." He eyed me from beneath those thick lashes, somehow managing to look sexy without really trying. "I guess we'll find out in a couple months if I can handle it," I said. "Oh, that reminds me. I'm wildly curious—why did you employ me, an American, when there must have been some perfectly good Aussie applicants for the job?" He stood and tapped his finger on the stack of paperwork in the tray marked IN. I got the feeling he was avoiding making eye contact. "I wanted someone with international experience who'd worked in the tourism industry. You worked for the top US hotel chain." "The agency said you asked for me specifically. How did you hear about me?" "A friend of mine works in New York and heard you were available." "Now I'm really curious. Who was it?" "Just a friend." He picked up the top file and handed it to me. Clearly he was avoiding answering the question. "This is our most urgent project. We're lengthening the runway and building a new terminal to accommodate large passenger aircraft. One of the major Australian airlines will start direct flights into and out of Sydney. It'll be a major investment but the payoffs will be enormous. We'll be the only island on the Reef to boast accessibility to Australia's busiest airport." "That's fantastic." I flipped open the folder and began reading. "Get up to speed as quickly as you can. I'm sorry but there's a lot of work piled up. Tori left nearly two months ago." "Why did it take you that long to replace her?" "I was busy." "Then why did you get around to replacing her now?" "You're full of questions." I couldn't tell if he thought that a good thing or bad. He kept his face straight. "Just curious." He grunted. "No kidding. If you must know, a friend visited recently and got on my case about hiring a new assistant. It was some talking-to, let me tell you." "Is this the same New York friend who heard I was available?" He checked his watch. "I have work to do. I'm having a conference call at ten with the project manager and construction manager. Instructions on working the phone system are…" He looked over the desk, under papers. "Somewhere." "I can figure it out. It's much the same as my last place of work." He nodded and headed back into his office. I caught myself staring at his very nice ass then wanted to thunk myself in the head. Get a grip, Kase. Don't make the same mistake again. "I forgot to mention," he said, suddenly turning and catching me staring. My face heated and I swear his lips twitched in a smile. "You don't have to dress up here. This isn't New York. Something like what you wore yesterday is fine." Em's words came back to me, and my face burned more. Had he noticed my legs after all, and liked them? Right. The pants suit tomorrow, no matter how hot it got. But today, I was going to find out about his friend, and find out why he, or she, recommended me for this job, because Jacob wasn't going to give me a straight answer.
Chapter 3 The rest of my luggage arrived. I found the two suitcases plus the boxes with my favorite books and photos in the living room. I set the grocery bags on the kitchen bench and surveyed the collection, hands on hips. Who the hell had come into the apartment to deliver them? "Yoohoo!" called Em from the door I'd left wide open. "I saw you arrive home. Can we come in?" she asked, already inside. A tall, slender woman dressed in cream silk pants and matching blouse strode in behind her. She was about Em's age, but that's where the resemblance stopped. Whereas Em had let her hair grow out gray, the newcomer had dyed hers blonde and set it in soft waves. She wore makeup and fat rings on her fingers. Em's chunky jewelry was all colorful fakes, but I suspected her companion's gems were real. "I hope you don't mind but I let Hal in with your things," Em said. She'd let him in? With what key? "Well, actually—" "Of course she minds," the other woman said. "For goodness sakes, Em, you can't go around letting yourself in to people's homes." "I couldn't let her luggage sit outside now, could I?" Em pouted. "Anyone could have stolen in." "On this island? Hardly." The woman extended her hand to me and I shook it. "Jill Fitzsimon, Jacob's aunt." "We're sisters," Em added. I looked from one to the other, trying to see a resemblance and failing. "I wouldn't have guessed." "She's adopted," Em said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "I am not!" Jill rolled her eyes. "Ignore her. She likes to stir up trouble." Em gave me a naughty grin. "Only for you, dear sis." "Our brother is—was—Jacob's father." Jill sighed heavily. "I never know how to refer to him, even now, five years on." Em sighed too. "The fool," she muttered. "Silly, arrogant fool." I waited for her to say more. For some reason, I wanted to know what Jacob's father had been like, and gain an insight into his background. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the end of the conversation. "I live in the end apartment in this building," Jill said, striding past me to the glass doors leading to the deck. She acted as if she owned it. I suppose she did. Or, at least, her family did. "What do you think of our little home? Somewhat different to New York, isn't it?" "Very different," I said. "It's beautiful here. The views are lovely." "So you'll stay for some time?" "I hope so. It'll depend on Jacob, and if he's happy with my work." "No, Kasey," Jill said, suddenly turning to face me. She was all business. I could picture her in a boardroom, surrounded by junior staff hanging on her every word. "It will depend on you, and whether you can manage him." Manage him? "I'm used to hard work," I said. "I like it, in fact. I don't mind working long hours if it means getting the job done." "That's all very well and good, but it's not quite what I meant." "She means," Em said, "can you lower his stress levels?" I stared at her. Was she implying what I think she was implying, or was that my dirty mind working overtime? "Can you get him to relax and enjoy life?" she went on. "Instead of trying to control things he can't control." "He works so hard," Jill said, folding her arms and inspecting my luggage with a critical eye. "He needs to learn to enjoy life again. Ever since his parents died, he's taken on the father-figure role and his brothers loathe it. They're so fractured now. A broken family. Do you understand, Kasey?" "I…I'm not sure I can help. I'm employed to work with Jacob, not be his…friend." Em waved a hand and made a scoffing noise through her nose that caused her sister to look away in disgust. "You'll see him more than anyone in the family. Surely you can wheedle your way into his good graces. We don't expect it to happen by tomorrow." "But we'd like to see a change in him after a month. If he doesn't learn to relax…well, there's a history of heart disease for the Walker men." Jill glared at her sister. "Don't alarm her, Em. The heart condition can be managed through medication," she told me. "And relaxation techniques. I've tried telling Jacko to have regular massages at the day spa, but he refuses. It would do him the world of good. That and regular sex." "Emma Walker!" Jill clicked her tongue. "Forgive my sister's crassness, Kasey. She has no filter." Em snorted. "I don't think there's any sense in avoiding the topic of sex. We're all grown up, sexually active women, although it wouldn't surprise me if your woohoo closed up through disuse." "Emma!" Em gasped and covered her mouth. "Oh, I am sorry. I didn't think that you could be a virgin, Kase. I hope I haven't offended you. If you are, it's quite all right. Nothing to be ashamed of. I was a virgin once, too, you know." I bit my lip to stop my smile. "I'm not a virgin," I felt compelled to say. God knew why I wanted to tell her. It just seemed like the right thing to say, and I didn't feel silly for saying it at all. "Oh, I am relieved," Em said. "A virgin wouldn't have the necessary skills." "Um, you seem to be under the misapprehension that your nephew and I are going to…hook up, for want of a better phrase." "It could happen. You're single, he's single…" "I think you've taken this too far, Em." Jill grabbed her sister's arm so hard that Em winced. "Leave poor Kasey alone." "I'd like to make it clear," I said, "I am not going to have any kind of relationship with Jacob other than a professional one. I don't sleep with my bosses." Anymore. "It's a bad career move." "Not necessarily." Jill leaned closer to me and whispered, "I slept with my boss then married him." "She was a P.A. too," Em said. "Many, many years ago." Jill looked like she wanted to poke her tongue out at her sister, but decided at the last moment that keeping up her crisp façade was more important. "Jacko is very handsome, and generous and kind when he's not being—" "A cranky pants," Em cut in. Jill moved between her sister and me. "No one would blame you for desiring him, Kasey, or taking your relationship in a different direction than stated on your job description." Em peered around Jill. "It was a shame that last girl couldn't cope with his mood swings. She was nice." "Tori was no good for Jacko. No good at all. She was much too soft." Jill tapped her temple, implying that Jill was soft in the head. "It wouldn't have worked out." I held up my hands. This was going too far. "Let me just reiterate. I am not interested in sleeping with Jacob. I won't be sleeping with him, dating him, or doing anything else with him that's not work-related. I have a career and a future to think about, and it doesn't involve quitting a job because I made a mistake." "Who suggested quitting?" Jill's lips pinched and her back straightened. "And why do you think having a relationship with our nephew would be a mistake? He's the most eligible bachelor on the island." "Aside from Cam. And possibly Mitch." Em screwed up her nose and shook her head. "Perhaps not Mitch." "It would be a mistake for me." I gave them each an arched look. "Now, if you don't mind, I have some unpacking to do." "I see we've offended you," Jill said. "If so, we're sorry. We're just worried about Jacob, but we understand if he's not right for you." She jabbed her sister with her elbow. "Don't we, Em?" "Of course we understand." Em patted my arm. "Now, lets part as friends. We are neighbors, after all." "Just for the time being," I told them. "I have to find something more permanent. I suppose the realtor in the village takes care of rental properties?" Em waved her hand. "Don't worry about that. Trust me, Jacko will forget to throw you out, and since it's his assistant's job to liaise with the realtor who manages the family properties, you can just conveniently forget about it too." "I couldn't possibly take advantage of the family like that. It's very generous of Jacob to set me up here, rent free, until I find my own place. I'll speak to the realtor tomorrow during my lunch break." "If you insist," Jill said, once again jabbing her sister with her elbow when Em opened her mouth. "I do admire you for your ethics, Kasey. I think you'll get along very well here on Paradise Island. Very well indeed, in an entirely professional capacity, of course. Now, we'll leave you to your unpacking." She half steered, half hustled her sister toward the door. Em gave me a finger wave. "Don't forget to wear something to show off your legs tomorrow." She indicated my knee-length black skirt. "That's all wrong for Paradise." Jill nodded. "For once, Em, we agree. Come on. It's wine time." I closed the door after them and stared at it. What just happened? Had I almost been railroaded into sleeping with Jacob by his two elderly aunts? Maybe not mixing my work and private life would be more difficult than I thought since I lived next door to my boss's family. But neighborly friendship was where I drew the line. Sleeping with Jacob was not going to happen. *** I didn't feel like cooking after unpacking so I headed back into the village and parked the buggy outside the busiest restaurant. A quiet meal alone wasn't exactly my idea of fun, but at least it would give me a chance to unwind. I had no idea which restaurant to dine at, but this one must be okay if the number of diners was an indication. I checked out the menu on the stand near the door and was about to enter when I heard my name. "Kasey?" I turned to see Cam crossing the road. "Hi," I said. "I thought it was you." His easy smile and relaxed stance with one hand tucked into his back pocket instantly made me feel like I knew this guy. In New York, meeting someone I hardly knew on the street in the dark, alone, would creep me out, but not here and not Cam. "You going to eat here?" "Why? Is there something wrong with it?" I asked, eyeing the glass door. "No, not at all. It's a nice restaurant…for couples." He grinned and glanced around. "You're not meeting my brother, are you?" Why did Jacob's family keep trying to set me up with him? "I don't mix business and pleasure." He held up his hands, warding me off. "Good policy, and that's not what I meant. I thought he might be taking you out to dinner as a sort of first day welcome thing." "Oh. Right. Sorry." Lucky it was too dark for him to see my blush. "Not that this would be the right place for a work dinner. It's more for lovers. And taking his new assistant out doesn't sound like something Jacko would do. He doesn't think like that." He leaned forward, conspiratorial. "He doesn't function like a normal human being." He laughed and I couldn't help laughing along with him. "In defense of my new boss, he seemed a perfectly normal human today." "He must have left the robot clone at home." I threw my head back and laughed. "Come and join me for dinner at the pub," he said. "The atmosphere is better than this place, more down to earth." What part of not mixing business and pleasure didn't he get? "Look, Cam, that's very nice of you, but you're my employer just as much as Jacob is. I don't want to socialize with anyone connected to my work." "Fair enough. Like I said, that's a good policy. But you really can't avoid us. We Walkers are everywhere. Not just my brothers, but cousins, aunts and then there are friends we've grown up with who are practically Walkers too." "I've met your aunts." He winced then chuckled softly. "Then you have my sympathy. They're…unique." "So you understand why I can't have dinner with you?" "Of course, but that doesn't mean you're getting out of it. Come on, I insist you meet Mitch, one of my brothers. The other two are off the island right now." I glanced at the pub across the road and down a little. "Will Jacob be there?" "Do you want him to be there?" "No!" "Good, because I'm sure he won't show. He's always busy. He works most nights. And weekends. He doesn't take time off." "So I gathered." He headed off then stopped when he realized I hadn't joined him. "Come on, then. We won't get a table if we don't move." This turned out to be a complete lie. Not only was a large table set aside in a separate, private room, but two people were already seated at it. They both rose as we entered and their gazes zeroed in on me. "Hey, Cam," the woman said. She was short and slender, her long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, leaving a few loose strands to frame her pretty face. Cam kissed her cheek then shook the guy's hand, clasping his arm. "Who's your friend?" he asked. He was tall, as tall as Cam, with sharp cheekbones like Jacob and eyes the same color as Cam's. He was a Walker brother, but who was the woman? Not a sibling. Jacob only had brothers. "This is Kasey," Cam said. "Jacko's new assistant." The woman brightened. "Yeah? In that case, you'll be needing a drink." She held out her hand. "I'm Ally Henshaw." Not a Walker or a Fitzsimon. "Nice to meet you." "I'm just a friend," she said, smiling. At my raised brows, she added, "I could see you trying to figure it out." I laughed to hide my embarrassment. "Was it that obvious?" "Don't worry," the guy said, holding out his hand to me. "Everyone thinks she's family." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ally blush. Cam glared at his brother. So there was history here, but whether it was with one of these men or with another, I couldn't tell. "I'm Mitch, the middle one," the guy said. "So how was your first day at work? Ready to kill Jacko yet?" "He was busy most of the day," I said. "We hardly spoke." "Sounds like the perfect working relationship," Cam said. "Especially with our brother. I wish he'd hardly speak to us sometimes." Mitch grunted. "You call that speaking? More like lecturing." "Enough work talk and Jacko bashing." Ally handed me a drinks menu. "I happen to like him." "That's because you're not related to him," Cam muttered. "Yeah. You can remember what he was like before…" Mitch swallowed the rest of his sentence and sat heavily. He picked up his glass of beer and drowned it. "Another?" Cam asked quietly. Mitch nodded. "Kase?" "A glass of the Rose Bay sauvignon blanc, please," I said, setting the menu down. Instead of leaving to order at the bar like everyone else, Cam stood by the waiter's point-of-sale station and typed in our order. At my curious stare, Ally said, "The Walkers enjoy privileges on the island. Private rooms and self-ordering here among them." "Then I'm glad I ran into Cam," I said. "Not only did I almost dine at a couples restaurant on my own, but I get to enjoy superior service." "Why do you think I stick around?" Ally said with a wink. "It's not for the company of these idiots, or Jacko." "Definitely not for Jacko," Mitch said, staring into his empty glass. "The prick." Ally's smile faded as she watched him. Cam slapped his brother's shoulder and sat beside him. "Lighten up. We've got a guest tonight. No moping." "I'm not moping." "So you're American?" Ally asked me. We fell into a conversation about my background, about my thoughts on Australia so far, and sightseeing around America. Both the Walker boys had been when they were younger, but Ally had never left Queensland. In fact, she'd lived most of her life on the island, having gone to a boarding school on the mainland during school term. She had an easy relationship with the brothers, but I didn't detect any romantic leanings from her toward either of them, or them to her. She treated them like they were her brothers. Our drinks arrived and Mitch drank half his glass of beer as soon as it was handed to him. Both Ally and Cam watched him with concerned furrows of their brows, although both pretended to be studying their own drinks. I sipped my wine. I wouldn't be having more than one glass tonight. Not with my employees at the table with me. Besides, I didn't want to drive my buggy off into the bushes. We'd just placed our orders for our meals when Jacob arrived. He stopped short in the doorway upon seeing me. Crap. Just when I'd begun to enjoy the company of the other three, now I had to really behave. So much for my relaxing meal. "This looks cozy," he said, taking a seat opposite me. "Why wasn't I invited?" "You were," both Cam and Mitch said. "You don't usually come," Ally said with an apologetic shrug. "So we've already ordered." Mitch downed the rest of his beer and got up. "You want your usual?" he asked. Jacob nodded and Mitch ordered at the console. I cradled my wine glass in both my hands and contemplated how to make an early exit without seeming rude. I could always play the jetlag angle. "You look like a rabbit caught in the headlights," Mitch said to me as he sat down again. "Jacko has that effect on people," Cam said. "Did I tell you how rude he was to Kasey when they first met?" "I was not!" Jacob sounded offended. "I carried her suitcase and drove her home." "After you learned who she was. Before that, you ignored her." "She wasn't important." He winced. "Sorry, that didn't come out right." "It's okay," I said. "I thought the same thing about you, too." The brothers chuckled. "I like this girl," Mitch said. "It was your fault that I ignored her, Cam," Jacob growled. "You could have introduced us once you found out her full name, but you didn't. You and your warped sense of humor." "At least I have a sense of humor," Cam mumbled. "So, Kasey," Ally said, leaning forward so the brothers, sitting on either side of her, couldn't see each other anymore. "Have you sampled the delights of Paradise yet, Kase?" Mitch snorted. "Are you aware how kinky that sounds?" "I dare you to ask a guy that question," Cam said. "You know she wouldn't." "Leave Ally alone," Jacob snapped. "Al, just tell them to shut up and they will. They listen to you." "That's because Ally doesn't lecture us." Mitch's face lit up as the waiter entered with two glasses of beer, one for him and one for Jacob. He didn't even let the waiter set it down before accepting it and drinking half. "Okay, you three, that's enough." Ally threw up her hands. "Can we put world war three on hold until later, please." The brothers had the decency to look sheepish at least. Mitch even apologized. "Thank you." Ally turned to me, a smug smile in place. "Now, Kasey, tonight's all about you. We want to get to know Jacko's newest assistant. Hopefully you'll like it better here than the last one." Cam opened his mouth to say something, but shut it again upon Ally's glare. Jacob crossed his arms over his chest and a brooding darkness descended over his features. "I love it here," I said. "It's beautiful. I don't know how much time I'll get to sample—" "You'll have time," Ally said, more to Jacob than me. "You'll get some downtime to enjoy the island. Cam runs charter flights over the islands and reef, and I'm sure one of the boys will take you out on their boats for a cruise." "She doesn't want to mix business and pleasure," Cam told her. "A good policy, but this is Paradise Island. If you work here, you can't avoid pleasure. It comes with the job." She winked at me again. Was she trying to get me to show Jacob how to relax too? I was beginning to think she'd been conspiring with the aunts. "When you get bored with the water sports, come and visit me at the wildlife center," she went on. "I'll let you hold a koala." "Now that I will definitely do." "Did you know that koalas aren't bears?" The three bothers groaned. Cam dragged his hand down his face. "Don't get her started," he said. "Shut up, all of you." Ally told me everything I could ever possibly want to know about koalas, dingoes, kangaroos, snakes and other native wildlife. It was fascinating and not at all boring. Not for this American, anyway. The three brothers ended up having their own conversation, much to my surprise. Despite their bickering, they could get along when they kept to safe topics. I caught snippets of Jacob telling them about the progress of the new runway and airport terminal and other plans for the island. I realized too late that I should have been listening. From what I did hear, I had a lot of catching up to do. The island was a busy place. The evening may have got off to a rocky start, but I enjoyed myself. Maybe a little too much. By the time we decided to call it a night, I realized I'd drunk three glasses of wine. Three! Idiot. Okay, so I like wine, but I should have known better. At least I hadn't made a fool of myself and I could still walk straight and talk without slurring my words. However, I didn't want to drive home, even if the buggy's maximum speed made a snail look fast. Jacob came to the same conclusion. "I'll drive you back," he said as we descended the steps from the pub to the sidewalk. I shook my head. "Thanks for the offer, but I'll walk." "Up the hill?" Cam eyed me like I was crazy. "It may not be far but that hill is a killer. Trust me, I've walked up it drunk many times." "I'm not drunk," I told him. "But I shouldn't be driving." "It's no big deal for me to take you home," Jacob said. "I go right past your place anyway. I'll pick you up in the morning on my way to work." "Really, it's okay," I said. "I can walk." Although Cam was right, and the hill was steep. "I'd prefer to drive you. We hardly ever have serious crime on the island, but I wouldn't want to risk it. The tourists are unknowns." "Let her drive," Mitch growled. "She didn't have much." He'd started growling a lot toward the end of the meal, mostly at his oldest brother. The more he drank, the more he and Jacob rubbed each other the wrong way. And he'd had more than any of us. I stopped counting at six beers. "No," Jacob snapped. "You're not driving either. Cam—" "Already on it." Cam held up a set of keys. "I lifted them from his pocket half an hour ago." "You did what!" Mitch exploded. "You've had too much," Jacob told him. "As usual, you overdid it. You're going to slowly kill yourself this way, Mitch. That's if you don't do serious damage to yourself, or others, in the buggy first." "Let it go," Cam muttered quietly. "I can't let it go," Jacob snapped. "He's my little brother and I look out for him. If I can't tell him straight up that he's being a dick, then who will? Huh? No one else does. It's my job to take care of him, of all of you and—" He suddenly glanced at me then shut his mouth. "Sorry, Kasey. You don't need to hear all this." I put up my hands, not sure how to respond. I shouldn't be listening to his family problems, but in a way, I wanted to. I wanted to help, but I didn't know how to even start. Ally hooked her arm through Mitch's and leaned into him, hustling him away from his brothers. "You have a choice, Mitch," she said. "You come with me or Cam." Mitch glared at his brothers. The light from the streetlamps picked out the glassy-eyed gleam of drunken anger. It didn't last long, however. "You," Mitch grumbled. "Anyone except them." "You'll thank us in the morning," Cam called after him. He tossed Mitch's keys to Ally who caught them in one hand and pocketed them. We walked a few paces behind to Jacob's buggy. Somehow my decision to walk home had been overlooked and I found myself climbing into the passenger seat beside him. We waved off Ally and Mitch—although Mitch didn't wave back—and Cam. "Thanks for inviting me," I called out to him. "My pleasure!" he called back. "I couldn't let a pretty girl dine alone!" I laughed. "Your brother is very nice," I said to Jacob as he switched on the car. "So I'm told," Jacob said. "Frequently." "By your aunts?" "By everyone." The warm evening air teased out my hair and filled my lungs. It smelled like exotic flowers and the sea. I breathed deeply again and resisted the urge to fling my arms in the air in joyful abandon. I didn't want to hit Jacob in the face. It might not be good for the image I wanted to project to my boss. "I hope tonight wasn't too awkward for you," he said. "Not at all. I thought it would be, but it wasn't. Your brothers are great and so is Ally." "Mitch is a good guy until he gets to his fifth or sixth beer. After that, he gets sulky. He didn't always drink too much," he said. "I want you to understand that, Kasey. He's a good kid." Mitch was hardly a kid. Mid-twenties at the youngest, but most likely twenty-eight or so. But I didn't correct him. "He started drinking heavily in the last few years, after our parents' deaths. He took it hard. They all did." They? He didn't include himself? That wasn't what his aunts had implied. "It's okay," I said. "You don't have to explain." "I didn't want to expose you to the ugly side of the Walker clan so early." He glanced at me. "It's not that ugly. I can handle the odd drunken family member. My father used to—" I cut myself off. There was no way I should divulge that piece of information to my boss. Not yet, anyway. I would wait until I'd made myself indispensible then tell him how his family was tame compared to mine. At least their father hadn't beaten up their mother after coming home drunk. At least Mitch didn't spew abuse at the top of his lungs. Dad used to, not only directed at me and Mom, but the neighbors, our friends and even the dog. The Walkers were tame by comparison. I drew in another steadying breath and shoved those morose thoughts aside. Dad was dead. He couldn't hurt Mom or me anymore. "You like it here?" Jacob asked quietly. "Like it? I freaking love it!" Oh crap, I'd said freaking and I'd sounded too enthusiastic. I wanted him to think me sensible, controlled, like himself. He wouldn't want a crazy person working in his office. To my surprise, he chuckled quietly. "That didn't take long." I eyed him sideways. By the light of streetlights I could just make out the curve of his lips. Yep, he was definitely smiling. It softened his face. His cheeks didn't look quite so sharp and his jaw not so severe. Despite the poor light, he didn't stare fiercely at the road ahead the way he'd done leaving the airport yesterday. He sat relaxed, one hand on the steering wheel, the other resting on his knee. He looked like he belonged right here, on a tropical island, fishing all day long or working on a boat. I could definitely see the family resemblance between him and Cam. Maybe the two glasses of beer had eased some of the tension from him, or maybe the delicious scent in the warm air acted like a natural pacifier. How could anyone remain moody and intense here? "What's not to like?" I said softly. He suddenly turned, catching me staring. I glanced away, but not before I saw the surprise on his face. Damn, damn and hell. Not only did he catch me, but now he must be puzzling over what my staring meant because I could still feel his gaze on me. "Watch out!" I shouted as we swerved toward the ditch at the side of the road. He swerved back onto the street. "Sorry," he muttered. I gripped the edge of the seat, not because I was afraid of crashing, but because I'd seen something in that look that scared me. Something I'd seen in Brent's gaze the night we slept together. Desire. We arrived at my place and I had a face-palm moment when I realized the aunts would get their hopes up if they saw Jacob and me together. Fortunately, neither peeked out of their doors. "Thanks," I said breezily, stepping out of the buggy and straight onto a rock. My ankle rolled and I lost my balance. I tumbled to my hands and knees. "Ow, fuck!" "Kasey!" Somehow Jacob was at my side before my name was even out of his mouth. "Are you okay?" "Sure. Yeah. Fine." I'd probably die of humiliation, but I was physically fine. "Just a bruised ego." He took my hands and helped me to my feet. His fingers were warm, but surprisingly hard for someone who worked long hours in the office. He brushed gravel off my palms then bent to do the same to my knees. "Can you put pressure on your ankle?" I tried. It didn't hurt too bad. "It's fine." Yet he didn't let go. "Let me help you inside. Is it all right if I carry you?" "Um…okay," I heard myself say. What was I doing? It shouldn't be okay to let him touch me so intimately, especially not in the summery skirt I wore. It didn't even reach my knees. It would ride up… Yep, it rode high up on my thighs once I was in his arms. If anyone cared to look, they'd see my lace underwear. I fumbled with my keys and pushed open the door then looped my arms around his neck. I had to put them somewhere, right? At that angle, I couldn't help staring into his face. He stared steadily ahead, like he was on a mission. "Bed or couch?" he asked. Both. Everywhere. "The couch," I said breathily. He set me gently down on the couch, kneeling to do so. His hands skimmed my legs, sending tiny goosebumps tingling across my skin. His gaze followed the path with the same intensity that I'd now become familiar with. He laid a hand on my lower leg, above my sore ankle and swallowed audibly. My breath caught in my throat. My heart hammered against my ribs. I liked his touch on my skin. I liked how he made me feel beautiful, without even trying. I liked how he seemed to be battling with the new, exciting feelings just as much as me. Yet I didn't like it either. Not at all. Because I knew I wanted to feel his hands on me, everywhere, and feel his lips on mine. And I knew he wanted the same thing. But that wasn't the scariest thing. The scariest thing was that I would let him do whatever he wanted to me, because those four glasses of wine had stripped away all my determination not to make the same mistake as I'd made with Brent. If Jacob wanted me, then I'd let him have me.