Seducing the Tycoon, an International Temptation novel
Copyright © 2016 by MK Meredith. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Chase Huntington smoothed her hands over her Herve Leger bandage dress, taking her time to admire the tasty morsel leaning against a light pole at the end of the cobblestoned block. Perfect. He was exactly what she needed to make this business trip fun: a hot, sex-on-a-stick Italian who looked like he knew how to handle his biscotti.
He glanced up, interest in his eyes, and she held his gaze as her body acknowledged him in a wash of goose bumps. He was taller than many of the Italian men she’d seen, and her glance ran the length of him to check his shoe size. It couldn’t be helped. And she wasn’t disappointed.
Her cell buzzed, and she broke away from the visual temptation, swiping the screen and accepting the call. “Hello, Mr. Huntington.”
Her cheeky tone drew a laugh from her father, making her grin.
“So far, so good?” he asked.
“Of course. I’m about to head in. Though, by the way, I still haven’t been able to get ahold of the director.”
As her father grumbled about reliability and work ethic, a woman brushed past and Chase smiled in apology. The lady dipped her head in return, sophisticated and graceful, just like Ferrara itself. These beautiful people were right up her alley. If she couldn’t be back in Malibu finally starting her life like she wanted, she might as well live it up while she was here. A plan her best friend Addi would pop a cork for, then share the bottle to the last drop for—as a best friend should.
“Chase, are you listening to me?”
Pulling in a breath, she directed her attention back to her family’s newest international addition, mere weeks away from celebrating its grand opening as a boutique hotel. “Absolutely,” she told her father. “I’ll contact you as soon as I have news.”
He paused. “I don’t have to remind you what’s at stake here, Coconut.”
The long-overused nickname left her shaking her head with a smile. “Only everything I want in the world.” She checked the time. “Okay, I need to go. I’ll call you later. And don’t worry.”
Disconnecting the call to his disbelieving chuckle, she tilted her head back to see all the way to the hotel’s roof. With her hands on her hips and a broad stance, she felt invincible, though the centuries-old building rose above her as if in challenge, showing off its lost-in-time architecture and intricately detailed waterspouts made of stone humanlike faces.
“I can’t tell if you were checking me out, or the new hotel.” The deep voice and Italian accent slid over her skin like velvet.
She had to lift her chin to meet his eyes, and her heart hammered in her chest. This trip was definitely looking up, in an over-six-feet-tall, dark-and-handsome kind of way. She grinned. “Oh, I think you know exactly, but clever opening.”
His wide mouth quirked up. “And here I thought your perusal of my footwear was opening enough. Size twelve, by the way. Quite adequate, if I do say so myself.”
Heat rushed to her hairline. Size twelve would do just fine. “I’m sure I have no interest in the size of your…shoes.” And she didn’t. As a matter of fact, she’d be completely satisfied to see his shoes discarded, along with his pants—because damn was this guy made to walk around naked. “Are all Italians this concerned with their footwear?”
He considered her question as if she’d asked about the local political climate. “Only when it appears said footwear may make or break his chances at extending the conversation into dinner.”
Dinner, breakfast, possibly lunch. She was all about meeting her three-meal-a-day requirements, but he didn’t need to know that. Not quite yet, anyway. She looked over his strong brow, and the breeze ruffled the dark hair at his temple. With a casual glance toward the hotel, she tucked her hands behind her back to keep from seeing how the strands would feel against her fingertips.
“Well?” He raised a brow playfully.
Another grin pulled at the corners of her mouth. She liked a man who wasn’t afraid to close the deal. “Lunch, at the very least.” She stepped up on the first stair leading into the hotel. The additional height brought her to eye level with her new friend, and her stomach dipped a bit as if she’d crested the top hill of a roller coaster ride. “But I’ve got some work to do first.” She nodded toward the doors. “You know where to find me.”
Turning back to the stairs, she grabbed the railing and paused to pull in a breath as her already rapidly beating heart kicked into overdrive. This hotel was her one shot, her one opening to prove that she belonged on the Huntington payroll—that she was valuable beyond just having the family name.
She could do this.
And the sooner the better.
The Huntington House, a boutique hotel right in the middle of this beautiful old-world city, would host its first guests in three weeks. And if she could pull off the grand opening without a hitch, it would prove to the board she was the best possible candidate for a director of hotel operations position back in Malibu—a job she wanted so badly she could feel it to her Jimmy Choo-clad toes. The applicants would be interviewed in one month, which meant this grand opening was her only chance to show everyone she actually deserved her dream job. Not because she was the boss’s daughter, but because she was more than capable of kicking ass and taking names when it came to running a hotel.
She had a little less than a month to prepare. Three weeks. Twenty-one days. Already less than five hundred hours. She could break it down to the minute, but she didn’t have the time.
So what if she’d been sent to a country she’d never been to before, where she didn’t even speak the language? Thank God they’d at least set up a translator, because her fluency in Japanese and German weren’t going to be any help here. Now was the moment she wished she’d studied Spanish or French. But those were her father’s forte, a small detail her mother had waved off as if insignificant. “We’d send your father, but he’s been so ill. He simply can’t make the trip.”
So now she had a hotel to launch. She squared her shoulders and brushed her hands against each other. Piece. Of. Cake.
With one last glance at her sexy Italian with the bedroom eyes and chiseled jaw, she entered her hotel through the large wooden double doors.
And stepped straight into hell.
Chase came to an abrupt stop and took in the scene before her. Plush sitting chairs were randomly placed throughout the lobby like a handful of jacks dropped by a toddler. Lamps, still in their packaging, lined the check-in counter. Potted plants, artwork, and decorative pillows by local designers sat in piles on the floor.
On. The. Floor.
What the hell was going on?
As she looked from the two well-coiffed women arguing behind the counter to the group of handsome gents having a heated discussion in the elevator alcove, a persistent pounding set up shop at the base of her skull.
She approached the women at the desk. “Excuse me.”
Neither looked her way.
“Excuse me,” she said. This time with a bit more force.
The women went silent and turned their heads in unison. Identically dressed, dark hair swept up in French twists, deep red lipstick.
Chase placed her hand on the counter. “What is going on here?”
They looked at each other and then at Chase. The one on the right spoke. “Che cosa?”
“What?” Chase shook her head. A commotion from behind caught her attention, and she spun around. The gentlemen from the elevator alcove walked up to her, all speaking in Italian at once.
She threw up her hands. “Please. I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
One of the gentlemen slapped another on the shoulder and gestured toward Chase as he spoke. All the men laughed.
Well, hell, this was not the start she was hoping for. Where was the director of hotel operations? She bit the inside of her cheek. Everything should be set up and ready to go. All she was supposed to do was prepare for the grand opening, and make sure the ambiance of Huntington House melded old-world Ferrara and upscale, white-glove customer service, following the vision set by her and her father. But the director was nowhere to be seen, and the place looked like a hurricane had come through.
“Gentlemen, please. Where is the director, Signor Donati?”
They all shook their heads, speaking over one another with accompanying hand gestures. She didn’t need to know Italian to understand Donati was nowhere to be found, and they weren’t happy with the new American interloper.
“Okay, okay. One at a time. Please.” She pulled in a breath. “Does anyone here speak English?”
It didn’t take a translator to figure out what “stupido Americano” meant.
The pounding in her skull revved up as their voices and her to-do list grew louder and longer. The staff wasn’t bilingual? At the very least the concierge and customer service should be. Who the hell hired these people? And where the hell was Donati?
The desire to fire everyone on the spot was strong, but she dug her nails into her palms instead. Three weeks left meant no time to interview, hire, and train all new staff that met Huntington House standards. But they didn’t need to know that.
Raising her voice to be heard over the commotion, she placed her hands on her hips. “It looks like the first thing I need to do is find new staff.”
The two women inhaled sharply as the men continued to argue. Chase eyed the two ladies through narrowed slits. They understood English just fine.
“Oh come now, that’s no way to start off as the new kid in town, is it? Perhaps I might be of some assistance.” A miracle came in the form of a familiar voice that skimmed down her spine for a second time that day. Her glance at his shoes was nothing more than a reflex.
Immediate silence followed.
“You’re my translator?” Chase looked over the heads of her motley crew and took in her tall, dark, and handsome she’d been sparring with only minutes ago. She could look at this man all day, but right now she needed his voice. “Thank God.”
“No, thank Drago.” He flashed a devastating grin, then extended his hand. As she slid her much smaller one into his firm grip, she couldn’t help but feel like she were shaking hands with the devil.
Because there was no way God would ever make a man this sexy on purpose.
At five feet nine inches plus four-inch heels, Chase normally met at eye level if not towered over most people—but this guy still looked down his straight and narrow nose at her with an intense dark gaze and a hint of a smile. The kind of smile that curled her toes and set off warning bells at the same time. He was still playful, but with an undercurrent of something dangerous.
She gave a mental shake of her head, chastising herself.
“Drago De Luca…at your service.”
She frowned. “You could have told me outside you were my translator. Playing me as the fool will never help extend lunch into dinner.”
He narrowed his eyes, studying her a moment. “Lucky for me, you already agreed.”
“Did I?” She most certainly had not. Especially now that she knew he worked for the hotel.
“But you’re mistaken, in any case. I’m not your translator. No Italian, I take it?” His voice was rich and deep, gliding over the English words with an accent she felt more than heard.
The warmth from his hand seared all the way up to her shoulder. She let him go and tried to drop her hand to her side, but he’d closed his fingers more firmly over hers before she could slip free.
She glanced down at their hands, then back to him. “Barely anything beyond ‘ciao.’ I’m Chase Huntington. I was expecting my director of hotel operations to be here. He was supposed to be my translator. Or so I thought.” She tried to pull her hand free again, but Drago continued to hold it. “My hand, love?” Her intrigue quickly dissipated. With the two of them playing tug-of-war and the staff all standing around looking to Signor De Luca instead of her, she needed to regain control. Now.
She opened her mouth just as Drago released her. He put his palm up, gaining the attention of the group behind the counter. “Ottenere questa lobby in ordine ora. E non farti vedere ancora arte sul pavimento.”
A few of the men cast their gazes over to the pile of pictures and pillows, then to Chase. She had no idea what he’d said, but with only a few words, the men rearranged the furniture while the women focused on the artwork. The pounding at the base of her skull eased a bit.
One man, the loudest of the bunch, paused to say something. But one sharp glance from Drago had the man snapping his mouth closed and dropping his gaze to his feet.
That was interesting.
Chase studied her new friend. He stood in a way that took up space. When he spoke, her staff took action. Which would be impressive if he was supposed to be the one in charge. But she was the person responsible for this hotel, with no time to waste in completing the design concept. Three weeks was barely long enough to execute a grand opening, much less finish the renovations the director had apparently skipped out on.
She took a few brisk steps to the counter and laid her purse on the edge. Then, turning back to her sexy-in-shining-armor, she placed her hands on her hips. Sizing up people had become one of her superpowers over the years. The ability had developed when she discovered everyone was a stranger until they found out her last name was Huntington, and then they suddenly wanted to be best friends. And right now her superpower was telling her this guy was used to being listened to, wouldn’t deal with anyone’s shit, and knew the area.
She’d never been one for being indecisive, and she wasn’t afraid to ask for what she wanted. And what she wanted was this opening to be a success. “I have a lot of work to do and a very short time to do it in, and apparently the director is gone, so…” She clapped her hands together. “Want a job?”
His jaw clenched a few times as he looked her over. Her tailored dress became too tight under his gaze, and her first “to-do” moved to second place as getting out of her dress moved to first. She resisted the need to fan her face. And shot him a suspicious look. Damn. Apparently he had a superpower, too.
That wolfish grin flashed across his face again. “I already have a job.”
“What do you do?”
She studied him, then tried another tactic. “You’re from the area?”
The corner of his mouth threatened to curve up, but he settled it in a thin line. “Born and raised, but I left a long time ago. My grandmother owns Casa di Nonna.”
“So you’re familiar with the hotel business as well? That’s perfect. You can see then why it’s so important I hit the ground running.”
His brows pulled up, but he didn’t answer.
“How long are you in town?” She rocked back and forth on her heels. Every second that ticked by was another lost.
“Around a month.”
“What will it take to extend a helping hand? I’ll make it worth your while.”
He stepped toward her. “I like the way you negotiate.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she shook her head with a quiet chuckle. “Our accountant will make it worth your while.” Enough of this. “Look, you’re in town, you know the people, and I need a translator in order to make the impossible possible, not today, not tomorrow, but yesterday.” The offer was ballsy and the man hardly looked like he needed a second job, but he’d already shown how effective he’d be. Taking note of the lobby, she shuddered to think of the state of the guest rooms, and the impossibility of her situation tightened the muscles in her neck.
“I’d heard the American was in town, but no one had mentioned how straightforward she was. I like it.” His mouth definitely curved into a devilish grin now.
“I don’t have the time to scour Ferrara for a translator, so if you’re open to it, love…” She held her breath. If he agreed, she could at least get started with her new plan since it seemed the director had jumped ship.
He tapped his fingers on the registration counter. “Fine. You’ll need all the help you can get. Not everyone’s enamored with the idea of an American hotel in Ferrara. It’s a tight-knit, loyal community.”
Swift relief rushed through her, and she squeezed her nails into her palms to keep from performing a double fist-pump. The quicker Ferrara got to know her, the sooner they’d be open to helping her, and the better she’d be able to launch this grand opening before hightailing it back to her palm trees and salty breezes.
Returning his grin with one of her own, she nodded.
He froze, staring at her intently, but she stepped back to the counter and grabbed her phone. She opened a memo app, then looked up at him, waiting.
Something flashed in his eyes, but he casually walked to her side, stealing her air. She tilted her head, finger poised over the screen keyboard. “What’s your schedule like? I’ll plan my needs around you.”
He licked his lips, then chuckled. “Music to my ears: efficient, right to the point. I can respect that.”
God. That accent. Her toes curled in her Louboutins.
Glancing past her to the open space of the lobby, he seemed to consider his options, then focused back on her. “Give me your number, and I’ll text you the times.”
She tried to resist the way her knees wanted to buckle in relief. “Thank you.”
He winked. “Let’s wait and see if you still feel that way in a few days. I never promised to be easy to work with.”
But the warmth in his eyes made promises she wanted him to keep, and she sucked in a breath. Get a hold of yourself, woman.
“If we’re going to work together, you have to get me up to speed. We need to sit down and talk.” He tapped the top of her phone.
She bit her lip. Of course he was right. And being a local businessman, he could probably answer many of the questions she had already listed in her memo app. “Agreed. Do you know where we can find some good biscotti?”
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