(Men of the Zodiac #9)
Author: Sarah Ballance
Length: 151 pages
Rating: 4 Stars
He's the perfect kind of trouble...
Zoe Davenport is on her way to a perfect, idyllic, private resort, where there's no ex-fiancé and definitely no public scandal involving said ex-fiancé. But one look at the exceptionally sexy resort owner, and Zoe wonders if she's escaped scandal just long enough to land herself in even hotter water...
Except that Ryder Nash isn't exactly a stranger. He and Zoe used to live next door to each other. She was the sweet little temptation who couldn't stand him-the bad boy with a loud car and a new girl every weekend. What Zoe doesn't know is that all those years ago, her father paid Ryder off...to keep him away from her.
And if Ryder gives into the fiery attraction that rages between them-even for a moment-he'll lose everything all over again... -Goodreads
One Night with the Billionaire
by Sarah Ballance
Copyright © 2015 by Sarah Ballance. 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.
Chapter OneOne man’s paradise…was so not her reality.
But it came close.
Zoe Davenport stepped off the gleaming Dassault Falcon and inhaled deeply. The tarmac warmed her feet through her shoes, the sudden heat in the absence of the plane’s air conditioning immediately prickling her skin. A hot tropical sea breeze whisked away the lingering scent of the buttery-soft leather upholstery, a luscious preview to the crystal clear waters glimmering silently beyond a wide strip of blinding white sand. Palm trees curved, their fronds lazing against a brilliant sky. Just off the runway, a sleek white limo waited. It did not bear Latitude 13’s corporate logo, as did the aircraft, but there was no mistaking its purpose.
It was there for her.
She dropped her sunglasses to her nose and shook her head. The postcard-cliché beauty of the newly constructed resort couldn’t be any more distant from the real life she’d left behind. After her so-called fiancé had been caught sexting the interns who worked under him—literally, as it turned out—in his congressional office, she’d landed on the front page alongside him, in no small part due to her high-profile position in her father’s top DC law firm. The scandal had left her more politically driven clients skittish and worried for their own reputations, and between that and the swarm of reporters that followed her everywhere, her ability to perform her job had been torpedoed. Though she’d taken the hit both professionally and socially, she had no inclination to play up her role as the jilted bride-to-be. If anything, she was glad to be rid of the jerk, and she had no desire to pretend otherwise.
Here, at a near-empty and not-yet-open resort and traveling under an assumed name, she wouldn’t have to. An old friend of hers, Moose Callahan, whose work in law enforcement left him with associates in interesting places, had called up after hearing on the news that she’d refused to “stand by her man” at his apology press conference. She’d helped Moose polish his application to the police academy during their senior year of high school, and he’d never forgotten the favor and wanted to repay her in her hour of national humiliation. So he’d promised to draw on his connections to get her an exclusive getaway where the sleaziest of reporters wouldn’t have a chance of finding her.
Her appearance at Latitude 13, two weeks before the resort’s official opening, was as a representative of the resort’s interior designer, there to ensure the decorative pieces were in place. It was an easy cover, and only the resort’s owner would know otherwise. Intriguingly, the man had supposedly attended Fairfax High School with her and Moose, though she couldn’t imagine who she knew who owned a private island. That sort of news tended to get around, but she hadn’t a clue who the proprietor might be. Then again, Fairfax High had been so enormous she hadn’t known all of her classmates when they’d graduated. What Moose had told her was that the owner was a retired bodyguard who’d hit it big in real estate, which only stirred up more questions than answers. Moose had gotten called out to a scene before he’d given her the owner’s name, but he’d promised she’d receive an email with all the particulars. Said email had her travel info and the resort’s name, but not the owner’s.
A uniformed attendant approached with her luggage. Rather than handing it over, as she expected, he offered a friendly smile and gestured toward the limo. “Right this way.”
She followed him to the car and slid into yet another display of luxury. More leather, more champagne, and endlessly stunning views enhanced the scenery on either side as the car slipped silently toward a palatial resort in the distance. When the ride drew to a stop, she exited to discover the huge building sprawled in every direction at once, its stark white façade so at one with the landscape that it appeared part of the beach itself, like a giant sand castle surround by lush tropical fauna.
And men. Hot, shirtless men. She studied the small group that stood with their backs to her, noting that the arrival of the limo hadn’t yet drawn their attention. One man was clearly the ringleader of the group, not just because he radiated power, but because he held the full attention of the others. And the magnetism went well beyond his captive audience, because even from a distance he snagged her attention. Or maybe it was the fit of his jeans. She had always preferred a power suit, but she had never seen anything sexier than the way that particular ass molded denim. The man attached to the ass in question stood shirtless, droplets of moisture skating in rivulets down his back. Sweat-darkened hair hung two weeks past time for a trim, but the rear view was all the more enticing for it.
Get a grip. It was the heat. Had to be the heat, because she was so not standing there trying to surreptitiously take back the breath he’d stolen. She was a grown woman.
One who hadn’t seen anything so sexy in ages.
A full moment passed before she realized the view had changed. She blinked into focus a set of eight-pack abs. A line of hair traveled south into a waistband that had settled tantalizingly low on lean hips. She’d have been content to let her gaze languish there, if not for the fact that the construction noise had ceased. Her attention shifted upward, hitching to a pair of blue-green eyes that put the Caribbean to shame. Gorgeous eyes.
Eyes that raked over her like she was on the dessert menu.
He straightened, his cerulean gaze taking a lazy tour of her body, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. Corded arms shifted easily, the muscles there as defined as those of his back. She caught a glimpse of a single tattoo marking one bicep. Strands of dark hair fell across his forehead, and below it, a five o’clock shadow framed sensual lips.
Lips that eased into a smile.
“Miss Elliot, I presume?”
A beat passed before she realized he spoke to her. The fake name sounded unnatural in his deep, husky drawl—about as unnatural as she felt standing in paradise wearing sensible heels and tailored pants. She itched to get her hands on the sundresses she’d packed. She itched to get her hands on that man. Though her heart beat unevenly and she had broken a sweat that had nothing to do with the equatorial sun, she pasted on a bright smile. “You presume well.”
He set down his hammer and wiped his hands on a nearby towel. A backward glance at the other men sent them back to work, setting off a cacophony of noise as he walked the short distance to join her on the path. He paused in front of her, his gaze touring her unapologetically. And she gave as good as she got. She may have been back on the market less than a week, but her fiancé had insisted on marriage before sex, a fact made all the more interesting after his recent exposure. Zoe hadn’t exactly been broken up over the idea of waiting, and now that the sordid pictures were circulating the Internet, she realized she hadn’t missed much. In retrospect, her affection for her ex had been constructed more from a need to please her father than of her own interest. She and her ex-fiancé shared similar, if disconnected, goals that made them oddly compatible. Both were driven to grow their careers—she was to inherit her father’s law firm, while he wanted to climb the political ladder—which they were content to pursue separately. Now she realized their primary connection had been that neither of them needed to connect deeply at all, but between her father pushing hard for her to secure his interpretation of the ideal son-in-law and her ingrained desire to prove herself to her dad, she’d been blind to that.
She wasn’t blind anymore.
Her disinterest in her ex aside, the way this man in front of her had her vibrating put her battery-operated phallus to shame. Her former fiancé wouldn’t have stood a chance.
And neither did she.
She was just imagining her tongue touring the grooves of his abdomen when the man shifted, drawing her attention upward over sweat-slicked skin, past flat nipples and a chest that made her thighs clench with need. His square jaw that had just enough of a shadow to look dangerous, and her nerve endings danced when she thought of those lips closing over any part of her body.
If there wasn’t a supply of batteries somewhere on this island, she was in a world of trouble.
He leaned close. So close that his mouth brushed her ear when he spoke.
“Let me show you to your room, Zoe.”
Zoe jerked back, her eyes immediately hitching to his. Only then did she realize why they were so familiar. Ryder Nash. Former boy next door. Killer eye candy, but if he’d ever bothered to speak a word to her, she hadn’t heard it. Hot as sin back in high school, and the grown-up version even more so.
The fact that he was also the proverbial last man on earth with whom she should get involved did absolutely nothing to dissuade the need ricocheting through her at a cataclysmic pace.
She stared at the work-roughened hand he held before her, realizing after an awkward moment that he expected her to give him her suitcase. She did, though not without a rush of memories. As a teen, he’d had a new girl every weekend and probably a new set of heel marks in his upholstery to match. But he hadn’t wanted her. Being ignored by a notorious playboy seemingly without standards had been humiliating enough. That it still stung more than ten years later was knowledge she could do without.
“The guest rooms are still being finalized,” he said. “So I’m afraid you don’t have much choice with your accommodations, but I can vouch for your suite. Best one on site.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.” As if she had room to complain. Her little impromptu vacation hadn’t exactly been her idea. Whether that made the world less or more cruel that she’d end up on the same sparsely populated island as Ryder Nash had yet to be determined.
She followed him along a beautifully tiled pathway. To one side, blooming hibiscus lent a shock of color to the crisp landscape. On the other, plush loungers surrounded a deep blue pool with what appeared to be a swim-up bar. Unmanned, of course, since the place hadn’t yet opened to the public. She could use a drink.
The room to which he led her appeared to be a cabana-style suite. The outside was starkly modern luxe, the full glass walls on the ocean side allowing an endless view of the water. An expansive open-air patio under a permanent roof hosted an entire living room set, complete with loungers and a private pool just steps from the Caribbean. Even through the glass, she could tell the kitchen, with its white cabinetry and gleaming gray stone countertops, would be completely at ease in a luxury apartment.
It wasn’t until he opened the door for her that she realized something was wrong.
The room—which hadn’t been locked—appeared…lived in. Not a mess by any means, but there were a couple of rinsed dishes in the sink. A mug on the coffee table. Shoes on the floor.
Where her mouth didn’t form words, her expression must have spoken volumes.
His lips twitched. “Your room is the one to the right. If your driver wants to keep his job, the rest of your bags are already inside.”
He straightened, all mass and muscle and sex appeal. He stared at her, one corner of his mouth upturned as if he found something funny. The Ryder she had watched through her bedroom window had never found anything funny. Not ever. He wore a scowl like no man’s business, but a smile? He’d be devastating in a smile.
Don’t go there.
“You weren’t expecting a room?”
Expectations. The thought took her in a direction she thought she had long left behind. One in which she had stared into those exquisitely blue-green eyes and had begged with every star in the sky for him to want her.
She tore her gaze from his lips. “I didn’t realize I’d be sharing.”
“I hate to break it to you, princess, but most of the rooms aren’t finished for a few days yet and are in the process of being painted. You can either asphyxiate on paint fumes, bunk with the guys in the staff quarters, or you can stay here.” His expression softened. “For what it’s worth, you have your own bathroom, and the locks are fully functional. You’ll have your privacy, and I don’t bite.”
“You?” She nearly swallowed her tongue. Aside the fact she had spent countless hours fantasizing about his teeth on her skin, and she had rather hoped he did bite, there was the very small matter of proximity. And that he had just indicated he would be a presence in hers. “I was under the impression I would be…working directly with the owner.” She had nearly forgotten her cover as an interior consultant. After ten years apart, the man managed to unravel her in minutes.
His lips formed a grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Was he as tormented as she? She doubted it, but it was a nice thought. “You can work as closely with the owner as you would like,” he said. “But if you want me out of here, you’ll be sorely disappointed.”
Great. “Are you his…assistant?”
He smiled, all languid and sated. Post-coital. “No, sweetheart. I’m him.”
One Night With The Billionaire is about so much more than the title implies.
It is the story of a bad boy who made good.
The princess tarnished by scandal.
The righting of old wrongs.
The fact that Zoe and Ryder feel the need to be so very unnecessarily 'cloak and dagger' about her identity from the start, is enough to throw one for a loop. He does own the island after all, so what he wants to get out will etc...etc...
The real fun of this read doesn't start until all the formality of reintroduction and the logistics of "I'm sleeping where and doing what" end.
Ryder is the consummate Sag. Confident and sure of who he is and what he wants. He is unafraid to to pursue Zoe. Taking care all the while to be sure that she is comfortable with the progression of things.
Also very much in keeping with the traits of his star sign, is the fact that he has chosen to surround himself with the people that have meant the most to him throughout his life.
Though the romance between Zoe and Ryder is very hot and sweet. It is the backstory and blackmail that Zoe's father resorted to, in order to 'protect' his daughter, that provides the dramatic hook for the reader and make that past bargain relevant to the scope of their futures.
Sarah and her husband of what he calls many long, long years live on the mid-Atlantic coast with their six young children, all of whom are perfectly adorable when theyre asleep. She never dreamed of becoming an author, but as a homeschooling mom, she often jokes she writes fiction because if she wants anyone to listen to her, she has to make them up. (As it turns out, her characters arent much better than the kids). To learn more about her work in contemporary, historical, and supernatural romance and romantic suspense, please stalk accordingly.
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