Trading Hearts is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons in coincidental. Photo courtesy of www.islandhideaways.com.
Five years later
With an expectant air, Natasha piloted her black Lexus SUV down the winding driveway of Emerald Bay House on the west coast of Barbados. Seated in the passenger seat, her sister Kim halted flipping through a folder to stare out the window at the luxury villa.
“Wow! Can you imagine what it must be like to live here?” she gasped as they circled a fountain and halted under an elegant archway. A white Range Rover with a King Properties logo emblazoned on its side was already parked out front.
“Well, we get to do the next best thing, look after it,” Natasha grinned as she grabbed her bag and exited the vehicle.
If nothing else, Natasha’s breakup with Matthew forced her to focus on what she wanted to do with her life professionally. With her ex-boyfriend out of her life, she was alarmed to realise how much she had lived for him at her own expense. Armed with a first degree in Management, she decided to specialise in Property Management at the Master’s level. Having developed a love of real estate from endless summers of tagging along with her father to clean the pools of the wealthy around Barbados, it felt like a natural progression.
The next step was to convince her parents to transform their small operation into a larger one that would also offer more specialised services to villa owners. Using computer-aided facility management software, Natasha explained how they could act as liaisons between landlords and tenants, address maintenance issues, advertise vacancies for landlords and perform background and credit checks on tenants.
With the contacts made through their pool cleaning business, the Taylors were able to develop a small client list and steadily build a name for themselves in the property management business. To villa owners who spent most of the year outside of Barbados, Taylor Property Management became the company in whom they could trust to secure short term rental agreements for their luxurious homes.
When King Properties, the most successful real estate developer on the island, called to commission her company to manage the newest jewel in its crown, Emerald Bay House, Natasha had wasted no time in visiting the villa. To manage a property for the real estate magnate was an offer she could not afford to refuse.
Natasha removed her sunglasses and gazed in awe at the Colonial-style house. Despite having several luxury properties on her client list, she had to admit Emerald Bay House was in a league of its own. The imposing, two-storey coral stone building sat on about an acre of landscaped gardens and manicured lawns.
The horse-shoe shaped house was accentuated by four central columns that rose majestically to its grey slate-tiled roof. Four strategically-planted cabbage palms added a stately touch to the entrance of the house. Through the half-opened oak front door, she glimpsed the cool marble tiles of a foyer and beyond that the shimmering blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
“What’s that noise?” Kim asked suddenly, and Natasha recognised the buzzing of an electric saw coming from the back of the property.
Following the sound, the sisters rounded the house and entered the back garden through an archway of bougainvillea.
“Damn, does he come with the property too?” Kim asked as they regarded the tall man operating the saw machine under the shade of a tree.
Clad in a pair of faded, low-riding jeans, work boots and protective eye goggles, the man appeared to be in the process of constructing a gazebo. The solid muscles in his honey-toned back strained as he brought his weight to bear on the lumber he was cutting.
If the back view is anything to go by, the rest of him should be equally delicious, Natasha thought breathlessly.
“This job is looking better by the minute,” Kim grinned mischievously, and her sister rolled her eyes.
At that moment, the sawing stopped and the women heard footsteps approaching. Stealing a final look at the mystery builder, Natasha turned to see a middle-aged Caucasian man in a business suit heading in their direction.
“Ms. Taylor? I’m Brian Goddard, Managing Director of King Properties.”
After returning his warm handshake and introducing her sister, Natasha extended an arm towards the house.
“You’ve really outdone yourselves with Emerald Bay, Mr. Goddard. I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble finding persons wanting to lease this property.”
Goddard smiled. “Normally we don’t outsource property management but trying to keep on top of our leased properties is taxing our people. I heard good things about your company and decided to give you a try.”
“Well, thank you for the vote of confidence. You can rest assured that we have the resources required to maintain your property.”
“Ah, that reminds me,” Goddard said, indicating the man who was working diligently on the gazebo. “I know you have your own crew but Michael Austin will be around for a bit finishing up the gazebo and one or two other things. He’ll be staying in the guest cottage till he’s done.”
Goddard turned away to call Michael over, and the man pulled on a t-shirt before approaching. Natasha got a glimpse of rock hard abs before they disappeared beneath the shirt, and beside her Kim gave a low whistle. “Doesn’t he remind you of that hot rapper, what’s his name?” she whispered.
“Common,” Natasha whispered back, thrusting out her hand to greet the newcomer.
Although he was covered in sawdust from the crown of his closely shaved head to his boots, there was no denying that Michael was flat out gorgeous. Natasha tried to hide her reaction when his large, slightly rough hand enveloped hers.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Austin. The gazebo’s shaping up nicely.”
He smiled broadly in thanks and Natasha caught herself staring at his full lips and white, even teeth. “Please, call me Michael. I’ll try not to get in your way. Mr. Goddard figured every garden should have a gazebo, and I want to put in a small play park as well,” he replied enthusiastically, his voice deep and melodic.
Natasha nodded dazedly, a bit overwhelmed by his closeness. Since Matthew she had neither the time nor inclination to pursue a relationship, and her reaction to this stranger took her by surprise. She was almost tempted to reach out and brush some traces of sawdust from his neatly trimmed mustache and goatee.
Natasha was relieved when Goddard offered to show them the interior of Emerald Bay House. Pulling herself together mentally, she excused herself and followed her sister out of the garden. Before she rounded the corner, Natasha stole a backward glance, and her heart beat accelerated when she saw Michael staring straight at her. He gave her a slow smile and waved goodbye. She nodded politely and continued under the flowery archway.