Sandcastle Kisses
Sandcastle Kisses
Author: Krista Lakes

Chapter One

I peered out of my dirty car window at the big mansion and had to consciously raise my jaw back up off my chest. I knew houses like this populated the island, but I hadn't actually been this close to one before now. Perfect white marble columns were flanked by lush tropical greenery, and scenic balconies hung out at regular intervals. The place was huge. Grandiose. Palatial. It belonged in a movie. And according to my roommate, it was actually one of the smaller mansions of the island. Key Island was the home of two extremely exclusive resorts, a smattering of multimillion dollar homes, and some locals to help run it all. The island was known as the island for people with more money than they could spend.

I shook my head as I eased my ancient little Corolla away from the circle of expensive cars in the driveway. My boss hadn't told me much about the job, just to show up and tend bar. I didn't even know who was officially even throwing it. He said there was a place for me to park to the side of the house and then to find Rachel.

Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and Jaguars lined the round-about in front of the house, and the worst part was that most of them were dirty. These people used ridiculously expensive cars as their everyday mode of transportation on the island. If using my entire research grant as a way to get to a party wasn't the epitome of wealth, then I wasn't sure what was.

I followed a delivery truck into a little parking lot off to the side of the house. It had an easy slope up to the big doors of a kitchen and was shaded from view of the house by palms and bushes. At least my little car didn't look quite as out of place as I parked it next to a sensible little blue Honda that was only a year or two younger than mine.

I pulled the keys from the ignition and checked my hair and makeup one last time in the rear-view mirror. My strawberry blonde hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail but with cute little tendrils that framed my face. My hair was now mostly blonde after being in the sun and ocean all day, but I thought it suited me.

My eyeliner was perfect and smooth, making my green eyes pop. I hadn't bothered to try and cover up the smattering of freckles across my cheeks, trusting in my old college roommate who said they were cute. She had taught me how to do my makeup in college and had gone on to become a professional makeup artist, so I figured she had to know what she was talking about.

I practiced a flirtatious smile one more time, checking my teeth in the mirror. With the top button of my white shirt just low enough to display cleavage but not appear slutty, I got out of the car. I tugged on my little black vest until it was straight and took a deep breath. Black pants and some sensible shoes completed my bartender outfit. I hoped I looked cute enough to get some good tips.

The tropical air of the Caribbean island was warm and humid against my skin. It was late afternoon, and the sun was just starting its slow descent down the sky toward blue waters. Birds chirped in the trees, and the beat of dance music started and stopped as someone inside the house worked on getting the sound system set. I felt a tingle of excitement run down my spine. This was going to be a good night.

Just inside the double doors of the kitchen, I found a woman directing traffic. She had on an expensive gray suit, and her dark brown hair was pulled up into a neat bun. Small square glasses were perched on the end of her nose as she peered down at a clipboard and tapped a pen against her lips.

“Are you Rachel?” I asked, stepping up to her. Hers was the only name my boss had given me. She smiled warmly and glanced down at her clipboard.

“Yes. You must be Isabel Baker,” she greeted me warmly. I nodded and shook her hand. A man with a keg on a dolly nearly ran me over before Rachel pulled me out of his way. “That goes upstairs on the patio!”

“Do I follow the keg, then?” I asked, my gaze trailing after the man with the keg. Rachel shook her head.

“Nope. You go down to the 'Man Cave.'” She rolled her eyes slightly at the reference, but her smile told me she just thought it was a silly name. “The boys requested to have a real bartender down there tonight. That's where the party will be.”

“Oh.” I felt a bubble of nerves. This place was incredibly fancy. I hoped I was up to their rich standards. I could feel my palms beginning to sweat.

“Don't worry about them. They just want to relive their glory days,” Rachel said warmly, referencing what had to be billionaires like they were her little brothers. “Just don't let them get away with too much. Have fun and don't worry about the booze. Just keep filling up their glasses and smiling, and they'll be happy campers.”

“Glasses filled. Got it,” I replied.

“If they give you any trouble, just let me know.” The dark-haired woman smiled at me and handed me a form to sign. “This is a standard non-disclosure agreement. Your boss said you'd be fine with it.”

I quickly scrolled through the form. It seemed pretty straight forward. Don't tell people who you met here or what they said. I could understand that famous people wouldn't want to be outed on their vacations or have their drunken ramblings posted across the internet. Signing was easy enough. I handed her back the papers.

Rachel tucked my form behind several others. “Besides that, I'll pay you at the end of the night. Any questions?”

“Just where the 'Man Cave' is,” I answered. Rachel's smiled broadened.

“Down that hallway, and then you'll see stairs on your left. Follow the sounds of the boys from there, and you'll find the bar. Remember, have fun. Just tell the guy in the Hawaiian shirt that you're the bartender,” she said as a smirk passed over her face at mentioning the Hawaiian shirt.

“Okay, thanks!” I said, but she was already back to her clipboard and chasing after a man wearing a catering uniform. I shook my head. She reminded me of my mom chasing after my little brother and his friends at a birthday party.

I followed Rachel's directions, easily found the stairs, and descended down. “Man Cave” was an excellent term for the room. A tattered but comfortable-looking couch sat in front of a TV big enough to fit in a theater. I could see all sorts of game consoles plugged in and neatly arranged in a massive entertainment system. There was a much-loved pinball machine in the corner and cozy chairs were scattered through the room. The bar took up the far wall, all wooden and shiny with various neon signs overhead. I could see another adjacent room where the DJ equipment was set up. Two men, one blonde and one with sandy hair, were the only party guests I could see so far.

When I stepped from the bottom stair, a large man stepped directly into my path, his arms crossed and an unhappy look on his face. I gulped hard and looked up at his piercing blue eyes. He looked like a sword: thin, limber, and deadly as hell. Then I noticed the brightly patterned shirt with red parrots and blue drinks. It didn't look right on him. It was like a tiger wearing a tutu.

“Um, I'm the bartender,” I squeaked. Somehow the man grew taller. Scarier. He was the big bad wolf from the fairytales and he was going to eat me alive. “The woman upstairs told me to tell the guy wearing the Hawaiian shirt...” my voice faltered.

“Quit scaring the poor girl,” someone from the party said, putting a hand on Hawaiian-shirt's shoulder. Hawaiian-shirt winked at me, allowing a hint of a smile peek through his tough facade. I nearly giggled with relief.

“Don't mind Dean. He's just mad that we made him dress up for the occasion,” my savior said. “I'm Jack. The bar's this way.”

“Izzy,” I replied. “Nice to meet you.”

I slipped behind the bar and promptly ran into a solid mass of man muscle. I watched in horror as our collision spilled the glass of ice in his hand down the front of his shirt.

“Oh crap! I'm so sorry,” I apologized, reaching for some napkins. I found a dry bar towel and held it out to him. He dabbed at his black t-shirt and laughed.

“Don't worry about it. At least it was just ice,” he said and handed me back the towel. “I'm Noah. I'm going to be helping you out tonight.”

He held out his hand to shake mine. It was warm and strong. My eyes traced from his hand, up perfectly sculpted biceps to a strong jaw and dark hair. His eyes were what made me lose my train of thought, though. They were robin’s egg blue and held depths that made my knees weak. Words left my brain. He was flipping gorgeous.

He picked up a new glass and put fresh ice in it to finish making his drink. Vodka, Sprite, some grenadine, and a cherry on top. A bit girly, I thought, keeping my face straight.

“A Naughty Shirley for the man of the hour,” he said, handing the completed drink across the bar to Jack. Jack took a big sip and let out a sigh of happiness.

“Best bartender ever,” he said, winking at me.

“The woman upstairs didn't say anything about having someone else,” I said. The bar was barely big enough to hold both of us. We were going to be running into one another all night. Taking another look at him, though, I didn't really mind that idea.

“The guys brought me in special. I used to be their bartender when we were in college.” Noah grinned at me.

“All right.” I grinned back and pulled out an empty beer pitcher. I had a couple of crumpled ones in my pocket that I threw in it and set it out on the counter. “What side of the bar do you want?”

“I'll take this side,” Noah said, inclining his head to the left.

“Barkeep!” Jack called out. “Sex on the Beach next, if you don't mind.”

“You know, you really have to buy me dinner first,” Noah told him with a wink, pulling out a bottle of peach schnapps. Despite being a seasoned bartender, hearing the words “sex on the beach” come from the mouth of a devastatingly handsome man made my insides tingle.

“Make me an Angel's Tit, Noah.” The blonde man Jack had been talking to leaned up against the bar. I snickered slightly.

“Any real drinks?” I teased.

“With these two?" Noah laughed. “Not likely. The reason I was their favorite bartender was because I was the only one who could make the drinks girly enough for them!”

I giggled, already feeling the energy of the night. Jack tossed a five dollar bill into the tip jar after Noah handed him his drink. I grinned at him. With guests like these, the night was going to be hilarious- and profitable.

“So,” I said, pulling out the crème de cocao for Noah to make the blonde man's drink. “You're Noah, you're Jack, the guy at the door is Dean, and you are?” I looked expectantly at the handsome blonde man. If I knew their names, I would make better tips.

The three men looked at one another, silent for a second, and then started laughing.

“You don't know who he is?” Noah asked in disbelief.

“No...” I frowned and looked at him closer. He looked slightly familiar, but given that he was Hollywood movie-star handsome, it was probably that I had seen him on TV. “Should I?”

“This is my house. Jack here is just borrowing it.” The blonde man smiled. I felt his eyes practically burn into me, daring me to remember. “Does that help?”

Think, think... “I got nothing.”

The three men laughed again, and somehow they seemed to relax even more.

“Bob. His name's Bob,” Jack grinned. “I guess you don't know Noah's or my last names?”

“If I didn't know his first name, how the heck am I supposed to know your last names?” I reasoned with him. His grin got bigger. “Why, are you guys famous or something?”

“Or something,” Noah said, handing “Bob” his completed Angel's Tit. “Bob” tossed a ten dollar bill into the tip jar.

Two more men entered the man cave, getting past Hawaiian-shirt Bodyguard Dean with a nod. One was tall and slender with messy honey-colored curls that looked perfect for tangling fingers in. The other was portly and pale, the lines of his face suggesting that the sour look was his usual, permanent expression. His suit looked expensive, but it didn't fit him right and it looked out of place among the other guests' casual t-shirts and shorts.

“Joe!” Jack called out, hurrying over to shake the attractive man's hand. “Joe” got a very confused look on his face.

“Dude, this is Paul...” “Joe” said, patting Jack's shoulder as if he were a confused child. “You've met him before.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “No, you're Joe. Our bartender doesn't know who we are.” Jack grinned as “Joe's” eyes lit up as he got it.

“The fake name game? I love it. I guess he's still Paul, then.” “Joe” inclined his head at the heavy-set man bee-lining his way to the bar. “Who's everybody else?”

“I already introduced myself as Jack. Same with Noah. But “Bob” did not.”

“Lucky Bob, then. Noah's here? Awesome.” Joe turned to the bar, and I felt his eyes do a once over down my body. “Lucky Noah, actually.” At least the last part was quiet enough that I could imagine he hadn't meant me to hear it.

“Give me some of that 1954 Mccallan scotch, sweetheart,” Paul said.” And don't be stingy.” His eyes slid down the opening of my shirt like he owned me. I fought the urge to button up. Hopefully he tipped as well as his friends.

I poured him a generous glass of the amber liquid and set it on the counter. He took one small sip, a smile crossing his thin lips before slamming the rest of it down. I tried not to look horrified. Scotch, especially a bottle that probably cost around three grand, should not be slammed back like a shot. It would be like using a Monet as toilet paper.

“One more, honey,” Paul rasped. He coughed slightly at the alcohol burning his esophagus. I guess when you had rich friends, it was tempting to use their nice things in a way you wouldn't normally. I tried to forgive him a little, but it was hard. “If you want some fun later...” He winked and dropped a quarter in the tip jar.

I poured a modest glass, and this time he picked it up and sipped rather than chugging. He gave me that thin-lipped smile that made my stomach curdle a little and went to sit on the couch with “Joe” and “Bob.” Jack was starting up a game of some sort on the giant TV screen. Paul turned down an offer for a controller, looking at the black plastic like it might bite him.

“Don't mind him,” Noah said, leaning up on the bar beside me. “He's usually pretty harmless. I can't believe Lo--I mean “Joe”--brought him, though.”

“He's not a friend of Jack's?” I asked, wiping down the empty Naughty Shirley glass.

“Not really.” Noah shook his head. “He's a lawyer. He's helped us all out at some point or another. I'm just surprised he came. This isn't exactly his type of party.”

I looked over at the man on the couch, sipping away on his scotch and glaring at the TV. I could see him at a loud club, leering at the girls, and telling them all how terribly important he was. Sitting on a couch with a bunch of barely-thirty-somethings playing Halo didn't exactly fit him.

I shook the beer pitcher, rattling the quarter from Paul. “At least he's a good tipper.”

Noah laughed, putting his hand on my shoulder. It was like sexual lighting hit me. Heat flooded my stomach, and if I were less of a lady and more a caveman, I would have thrown him over my shoulder and found a bedroom somewhere. I had no idea it was even possible to have that strong a connection just by someone casually touching my shoulder.

I glanced up at Noah, wondering if he felt it too, but he just smiled down at me like he was actually just interested in the tip jar. Except those eyes. They held a blue fire that told me he had felt something too, despite what the rest of his face said.

He cleared his throat, releasing my shoulder and getting a cup of Malibu and Coke for himself. “So, you live here on the island?”

“Yeah.” I grabbed one for myself. Rachel did say to have a good time. “You just here for the party?”

Noah nodded. “I'm here for a couple of days. My schedule is pretty open, though.”

“If you want, I’d be happy to show you around the island. I mean, if “Bob” doesn’t want the honor,” I offered. Noah’s face split into a grin. He nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but a new guest cut him off...

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