Trading Hearts is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons in coincidental. Photo courtesy of www.islandhideaways.com.
Grumbling in annoyance, Natasha climbed out of her SUV in front of Emerald Bay House. She hadn’t planned to visit the West coast property that day, not with several south coast properties requiring her attention. She had groaned when Kim called her on her cell to inform her that a group of local businessmen wanted to urgently view the property. Since Emerald Bay was her most prized listing, she had reassigned her other tasks to Kim and other employees.
Glancing impatiently at her watch, she ran up the steps of the house and let herself in. No matter how many times she visited the property, she was always in awe of the sheer luxury exuding from the villa. Light bounced off the natural coral stone walls of the grand foyer, the high ceilings and large windows giving Natasha the impression of entering a cathedral.
She passed the elegant, coral stone stairway that lead to the upper level of the house and headed to her favourite spot, the seaside terrace that ran the length of the villa. Below, water shimmered and danced in the hot August sunlight as it flowed five feet down a tiled wall into a kidney-shaped swimming pool. Beyond the property, she sighted a pleasure boat filled with tourists slowly making its way down the coast.
She closed her eyes for a few seconds, sighing in contentment as the fresh sea breeze enveloped her. Suddenly, she heard footsteps approaching, and her eyes widened in surprise when Michael joined her on the balcony. He was dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a white cotton shirt, the sleeves rolled back to reveal his tanned, muscular arms. The jet-black hair of his moustache and goatee stood out against his sun-kissed skin. Natasha thought fleetingly that he looked good enough to eat.
“Waiting for me?” he joked.
She recovered quickly from the shock of seeing him free of sawdust. “Sure, if you can afford US$6,000 a night,” she quipped.
He made an impressed-looking face. “That much, huh? I think I’ll pass. We builders live on a fixed budget.”
She laughed. “Don’t we all. I think I just might be able to afford the gazebo around here.”
He chuckled. “Speaking of which, you haven't had a tour of the finshed product yet. Come and have a look.”
She was about to decline but decided a walk in the garden with this brown sugar hottie was better than waiting alone in the main house.
She locked the front door and followed Michael to the back of the property. She glanced over at the area designated for the park and saw that Michael had already constructed several swings and a seesaw.
When she reached the gazebo, she pulled up suddenly, gasping in astonishment at the sight that greeted her. The beautifully crafted, wooden building had a blanket several cushions spread on its floor. Several baskets of goodies were laid out, and a bottle of Chardonnay and two wine glasses chilled nearby in a large bucket of ice.
“Happy birthday, Tasha,” Michael laughed, as she stared at him speechlessly. “I guess by now you realise that you don’t have an appointment.”
“How..,” she started, then realisation struck. “Wait till I see that sister of mine!”
“I can’t reveal my sources. Anyway, you still owe me a date away from here, don’t think you’re off the hook,” he laughed, leading her by the hand into the gazebo.
She removed her jacket and kicked off her high heels before taking a seat. “Well, consider this a trial run and we’ll see if you get to move on to the second phase,” she teased.
He poured out two glasses of wine. Handing one to her, he clinked their glasses together in a toast. “May all your dreams come true, Tasha. Today and always.”
Touched, she thanked him and took a sip of the mellow wine. The next hour was spent digging into the sumptuous lunch of chicken, potatoes and Caesar salad, and talking about their families. Michael revealed that his parents were now living in upstate New York, and that he had a younger brother in the United States Army, and an older sister who was a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
At ease in his presence, she related some of her childhood escapades, and filled him in on some of the recent happenings in her life, including the deal King Properties offered her father. The offer for the Taylors’ property was growing every day, and currently stood at $5 million.
“He can do a lot with $5 million. He can buy a house if he doesn’t want the hassle of rebuilding,” he suggested.
Natasha shook head. “My father’s a simple man. To him, money isn’t everything.”
She waved her arm towards the house. “He wouldn’t want to live in a house this size. He would say that he could enjoy the beach front just as well if he lived in the board and shingle house next door.”
Almost on cue, Michael and Natasha heard the children who lived at the tiny dwelling next door squeal in delight as they ran down the small track between the two properties to the beach. They smiled at each other, and Natasha lowered her gaze before he saw her cheeks redden. She was suddenly aware of how close they were seated to each other, their backs propped against the gazebo’s banister, their thighs touching.
“And what about you? What do you want out of life?” he queried suddenly.
She smiled softly. ‘If you’re asking if I would want to live the high society life, no. That’s not what I’m aspiring to. Don’t get me wrong, I love this house, but I’ve seen personally how the lust for money and position can change people, make them forget what’s important.”
He detected a wistful note in her voice and pressed her. “And what’s important to you?”
She turned her face towards his. “Love, honesty and trust,” she replied frankly.
He stared into her brown eyes for a few seconds, before letting his gaze fall to her lush lips. Natasha held her breath, her heart beating a wild tattoo in her chest. He traced the outline of her face with his fingers before drawing her to him.
Natasha returned his kiss hesitantly, savouring the sweet taste of wine and fruit on his breath. He pulled his lips away from hers briefly to place butterfly kisses on her eyes, nose and neck, before reclaiming her mouth.
Natasha moaned softly as his tongue delved between her lips. Her body was a minefield of sensations that were all heading south. As the kiss deepened, he pulled her on to his lap, and Natasha wrapped her arms around his neck.
“You have no idea how long I wanted to do this,” he groaned, trailing hot kisses down her neck. Natasha could only nod as she shivered with pleasure, increasingly aware of his hardness pressing against her hip.
Without breaking their kiss, Michael flipped her on to her back, supporting his weight on his elbows. She ran her hands tentatively under his shirt, raking her nails against his hard abs. He groaned in frustration, his fingers fumbling with the buttons of her blouse.
She clung to him, arching her back with pleasure as he buried his face in her bared bosom, gasping his name as he pleasured her with his lips and hands. Michael placed searing kisses on her taut stomach and was about to unfasten the waistband of her pants when a voice broke into their lust-filled daze.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
Uttering a startled curse, Michael rolled off Natasha’s body, and the mortified woman clutched her blouse to her chest. Brian Goddard stood outside the gazebo, hands on hips, his face red with anger. Scrambling to her feet, Natasha hastily refastened her bra and blouse.
“Tasha, wait…,” Michael began, touching her shoulder but she shrugged off his hand and brushed past him. He heard her mumble an apology to Goddard before running barefoot across the grass, shoes and jacket in hand.
Dejected, Michael slumped down on the step of the gazebo and buried his face in his hands.
“Have you lost your mind, young man?” Goddard railed, “Having sex with the woman wasn’t part of the plan!”
Michael raised his head, an agonised expression on his face. “Give me a break, Brian. I feel bad enough as it is!”
Brian pressed on. “I didn’t mind you trying to convince her to take the deal, but you‘ve gone way too far, Alan.”
Alan Michael Austin King shot him a sour look. “Thanks for pointing that out, Brian, but I don’t give a damn about business right now. You saw the look on her face. She’s never going to speak to me again!”
Sighing, Brian came over and sat with his friend. “Well, her embarrassment’s going to turn to anger if she finds out that you haven’t been totally honest with her,” he said matter-of-factly.
Alan rubbed his shaved head in frustration. He had planned a quiet summer working on his property, incognito. He didn’t expect to find himself caught in an emotional maelstrom with a certain beautiful property manager. Meeting Natasha Taylor was a wonderful surprise, but even though he knew she could complicate his life in ways he didn’t even want to think about, he was damned if he could control his desire for her.
Brian sighed. “I’m sorry for interrupting your…lunch, but it had to be done. The more involved you become with that girl, the angrier she’s going to be when she finds out who you really are. I’m just trying to protect you both from getting hurt.”
Alan’s eyes flashed in anger. “And you think I would deliberately try to hurt Natasha? I care about her, Brian! I wasn’t looking for any of this to happen. I should never have started this whole damn charade in the first place. I should just tell her the truth and get it over with.”
His business partner shook his head vehemently. “No matter which way you look at it, she’s going to think you tried to seduce her to get her family’s land. And when women get angry, they do some crazy things. As much as I want you to patch things up with Natasha, we have the company to think about, Alan.”
The younger man got to his feet. “I’ll worry about the company later. If I know Natasha, she’s probably thinking about resigning. I need to call her!”
Brian held up a hand. “I think you’re the last person she wants to hear right now. You go back to work and let me deal with Natasha.”
After a few more minutes of arguing, Brian finally convinced Alan to resume work, and watched as his disconsolate friend trudged across the lawn.
Yup, Brian thought, he’s in real deep trouble.