A Deal with Benefits

By: Susanna Carr


“OUR GUEST IS early, Miss Ashley. Ooh, that boat is sweet,” Clea, the housekeeper, said and gave a squeal of laughter that rang through the hall. “You should see Louis running down the dock to get a closer look.”

“It must be quite a boat,” Ashley said. Clea’s husband didn’t move fast. No one did on Inez Key. Their families had been here for generations and they followed the gentle rhythm of island life.

Ashley took a step outside and stared at the scarlet red boat. The sharp and dramatic lines seemed obscenely aggressive against the lazy waves of the ocean. The boat said a lot about the owner. Loud and attention seeking. She squinted and noticed that there was only one person on the boat. “Damn,” she muttered. “He’s single.”

Clea patted Ashley’s bare arm. “I’m sure he won’t require that much work.”

Ashley rolled her eyes. “Single guests are the worst. They expect to be entertained.”

“I can meet him while you change into a dress,” Clea said as she headed down the hill to the dock.

Ashley followed her. “No, thanks. I’m not dressing up for paying guests anymore. Not after that basketball player thought I was included in the weekend package.”

Clea gestured at Ashley. “And what is this man going to think when he sees you dressed like that?”

Ashley looked down at the bright yellow tank top that didn’t quite reach the frayed cutoff shorts. Her worn sandals were so old they clung lovingly to her feet and her long hair was gathered up in a messy ponytail. She only wore makeup or jewelry for a special occasion. A man did not fall into that category. “That we aren’t formal around here.”

Clea clucked her tongue and stared at Ashley’s long brown legs. “You don’t know much about men, do you?”

“I’ve learned more than I ever wish to know,” Ashley said. She’d got her education whenever her father had been around during the tennis off-season. What she didn’t discover from Donald Jones, she had learned from his entourage.

She had finally used all that knowledge to secure a generous loan from Raymond Casillas. It had been a huge risk. She didn’t trust the aging playboy and knew he was going to find a way to have her repay him with sex. That wasn’t going to happen.

Unfortunately, she was behind on her loan payment and she couldn’t miss another month. Ashley shuddered, the icy-cold fear trickling down her spine as she considered the consequences. Just a few more rich celebrities seeking privacy on her island—okay, quite a few more—and she would be free of the threat.

Ashley walked down the hill with renewed determination. She strode along the sturdy wood dock, blocking the bright sun with her hand as she took a closer look at her guest, Sebastian Esteban.

The man stood on the deck like a conquering hero waiting to be swarmed by the grateful natives. Her heart started to pound against her chest. She noticed the thick dark hair ruffling slightly in the wind and the T-shirt stretched against his broad chest. His powerful legs were encased in faded jeans. She felt an unfamiliar pull low in her belly as she stared at the gorgeous stranger.

“Huh,” Clea said as she walked alongside Ashley. “There’s something familiar about that man.”

“Is he famous? An actor?” Ashley immediately dismissed that idea. While his stunning good looks would make Hollywood lay down the red carpet for him, she sensed Sebastian Esteban wasn’t the kind who would trade on his harsh, masculine features. The blade of his nose and the slash of his mouth suggested aristocracy, but the high, slanted cheekbones and the thrust of his angular jaw indicated that he fought for every inch of his territory.

“Can’t say for sure,” Clea muttered. “I feel like I’ve seen him before.”

It didn’t matter what he did for a living, she decided. She wasn’t going to be starstruck. Ashley had intentionally cut herself off from the world when her parents died five years ago. She would probably recognize a few superstars, but she didn’t keep up with the current celebrities. Yet she didn’t think she could tolerate another famous person who thought basic manners applied to everyone else and not them.

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