Author’s note: This free side story is the first half of "Saltwater Kisses” as told from the billionaire’s point of view. If you enjoy it, check out the rest of the Kisses series, also available here!
“They always do that, don’t they?” Owen Parker had slurred as Jack Saunders half-carried him out of the bar and back toward the house. “They just want us for something, and it’s never just us.”
“I hear ya, buddy,” Jack agreed, shifting Owen's weight more evenly across his shoulders. Jack was still slightly surprised that the girl had only been interested in drinks from Owen. As far as men went, most women thought Owen was beautiful. Tall, blonde, blue eyes and built like a viking, Owen never seemed to lack for feminine interest. Just goes to show, Jack thought, there's no accounting for taste.
Jack wasn't bad looking himself. Tall, with sandy hair that always seemed to be falling into his hazel eyes, he liked to run and kept himself in fighting shape. Every magazine article said he was a catch. He sometimes wondered if that was referring to his physique and handsome appearance, or to the fact that he owned a multi-billion dollar oil company. Either way, girls always seemed to flock to them, though they never seemed to stay.
“How you doing, Owen?” Jack asked. He didn't regret going out to the small local bar, but he was a little disappointed at just how drunk his friend had gotten. While Jack sipped on a simple jack and diet, Owen had found a pretty little blonde who had promptly drunk him under the table. The girl then went on to find another willing suitor to buy her drinks. Once Owen's desire to pay for her beverages stopped, so did her interest.
“Dude, I think Brandy's bad news,” Owen said, stopping in his tracks and nearly pulling Jack over. Owen's face was pale and the sweat on his forehead gleamed a little in the moonlight.
Brandy. Thinking about her made Jack's blood pressure rise to levels requiring a doctor. Bringing her on his “boys” trip had most certainly been a mistake, but he couldn't figure out where he had gone wrong. The sexual tension in the office had been palpable, but out on vacation all she did was grate on his nerves. He had been grateful when her headache had kept her in for the night.
“Come on, Owen,” Jack said. “I know you aren't the biggest fan of her, but give her a chance.”
Owen's lips thinned and his eyes went glassy. “I just don't think she has your best interests in mind. I don't like her.”
Jack took a deep breath. Owen wasn't the only one who didn't like his relationship with Brandy. Rachel, Jack's personal assistant and friend, had basically said the same thing. Only Rachel had used less nice words. He was beginning to think the relationship was doomed.
“I appreciate your concern, and-” Jack started, but Owen suddenly leaned to the side and started regurgitating all the alcohol in his stomach. Jack sighed. At least Owen had avoided hitting him with projectile vomit.
“The milk was a mistake,” Owen groaned, clutching his stomach. Jack rolled his eyes. He hadn't even seen Owen drink any milk, but knowing the lengths Owen would go to impress a girl, he wasn't surprised.
“Let's get you to bed.” Jack waited a moment before taking Owen's arm over his shoulder again to make sure he was finished. “I'm pretty sure Janet stocked the fridge with some Gatorade.”
Owen moaned in answer but started to shuffle his feet toward the beach house. Jack walked slowly, nearly dropping Owen whenever he started to make retching sounds. Luckily, Owen kept the rest of his stomach down for the remainder of the short walk back.
The beach house gleamed in the moonlight like a beacon of hope as the two men staggered forward. Jack had always liked the place. Technically, it was Owen's beach home, but Jack had stayed enough times that it felt like his own. The house was one of the few places that Jack actually felt comfortable in.
It was that feeling of comfort that had made him choose to have his “bachelor party” here. Jack wasn't getting married, at least not to a woman. The party was more symbolic of his job taking over his life completely. He knew that with the amount of work on his plate this next year, he'd be lucky to have enough time to shower, let alone meet a woman to marry.
As much as he hated it, Jack accepted the fact that he was probably never going to get married. It was just a cold fact of life. He was marrying his business; DS Oil and Gas was his life partner now. Once he signed those papers next week, he would be as off the market as any married man. Thus, the decision to throw a blow out bachelor party.
“Okay, Owen, time to sleep,” Jack said gently as he laid Owen down in the first available bedroom. Owen mumbled something and buried his face in the pillow. “You can sleep until the party tomorrow.”
He had friends flying in from all over the world to come stay at Owen's lush beach house to celebrate one last time. Tomorrow couldn't come fast enough. He couldn't wait to see the few people in the world that he didn't feel awkward and rich around. For at least a couple of hours, he would get to be “Jack” and not have to be the billionaire.
Jack went to the kitchen to find the Gatorade for Owen. Jack smiled when he opened the pantry to find his two favorite flavors neatly lining one of the shelves of the pantry and several cooling in the fridge. He would have to thank Janet, one of the housekeepers, for doing such a wonderful job. She always knew when Jack was coming to visit and stocked his favorites accordingly.
Owen was already snoring when Jack dropped the bottle off in his room. For a moment, Jack considered finding a sharpie or even some some shaving cream to prank his friend, but decided against it. It wasn't the threat of retaliation, but rather the bone-weary tiredness that decided him. The company's transition next week was already exhausting him.
Jack climbed the stairs to his room, stripping his shirt off as he entered. He didn't bother taking off his pants or even turning on the light before flopping into bed. All he wanted to do was sleep and not think about what he was doing. Nothing in his life felt right at the moment.
“Ooof!” A voice said in the darkness. “What are you doing? You reek.”
Brandy. Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had completely forgotten about Brandy.
“Sorry, baby,” he whispered, leaning over to kiss her cheek. “We just got back.”
“Well, you can go take a shower,” she said shortly. “You smell like a bar.”
Jack frowned. Of course he smelled like a bar, that's where he had been all night. “I'll take one in the morning, I'm just really tired and--”
“Then don't sleep in here with me,” she snapped. “Either stop smelling like crappy whiskey or find another place to sleep.”
Jack stared at the dark in disbelief for a moment before getting up and going to another room. He was exhausted. It shouldn't matter that he smelled like a distillery. That was his room too. This whole place was his.
He flopped down in the guest bedroom down the hall, annoyed. The pillow here wasn't the kind he liked and the bedspread in this room was too heavy. He wanted his room. He scrunched the pillow up under his head in an angry attempt to make it more comfortable.
Bringing Brandy was a mistake. Owen and Rachel both had tried to warn him but he hadn't listened. He had wanted to be in love. For the last week before his father's business took over everything, Jack had wanted to find some happiness.
On the surface, everything had been perfect. Brandy was beautiful with a body that made men's heads spin. She laughed at his jokes and she fawned over his gifts. She had made him feel powerful and wanted.
He shook his head, staring up at the ceiling. She had fluttered her eyelashes and taken him in. Every time he closed the blinds to his office with her inside, he had gotten a rush. But, now that they were on vacation, all the spark from their clandestine meetings in the office was gone.
Jack sighed, holding the breath out for as long as he could, relishing the physical ache. After this trip, everything would be different and yet exactly the same. He knew was after his money, but at least she had made the effort to give him the illusion of having feelings for him.
She must still just have a headache, Jack thought to himself. Everything will be back to normal in the morning.
Everything was not back to normal in the morning. The first few times his phone buzzed, Jack didn't even bother getting up to answer it. He just prayed that it would stop before his hangover got worse.When it started to vibrate non-stop, he finally reached out from under the blanket to look at who was calling. He had specifically requested that he only be bothered for emergencies, but one look at the Caller ID told him that he better pick it up.“What's up, Dean?” he asked, his voice cracking halfway through the sentence.“What's up? I've been trying to call you for a half hour now,” the angry man on the other end of the line said.“Just woke- oh. Oh.” Dean sounded like he understood. Jack could hear someone talking in the background, then he heard Dean say, “He said he just woke up.”Jack looked at the clock. 9:30 AM. It wasn't even that late, but for the CEO of a company, that might as well be sleeping in until sunset. He knew he'd be pulling some hours before dawn as soon as he s
Jack raised his arms above his head, feeling his shoulders tighten and release with the motion as he climbed out of bed. Surprisingly, he wasn't hung over. If nothing else, that made the day a good one.Only a few more days, Jack thought as he threw on a t-shirt over his swim trunks. Only a few more days before Dad's company owns me.He barked a bitter laugh. Who was he kidding? His father's company already owned him and he knew it. Next week would just make it official. His thoughts skittered away from the cause of the sudden increase in responsibility. He didn't want to think about how his father's gaunt frame no longer in his suits or how tired his once vivacious father became during even the simplest of meetings. Jack didn't have to read the doctor's reports to know the chemotherapy wasn't working. It was written all over his father's face.Jack scrubbed his face with his hands and then ran them through his hair. This wasn't the time to be thinking such morbid, unhappy thoughts. T
The porch creaked slightly as Emma glanced back to make sure he was still following her. She grinned and nervously fumbled with a key in the door. Moonlight danced off her hair and the only thing he could think about was that he needed to kiss her. He needed to find a way to convince her to stay with him.Dinner had been even better than he could have hoped. The resort Emma was staying at had amazing food, but it was the company that had made it memorable. She got him to reveal things about himself that he never told anyone. He still couldn't believe that he had willingly told her about the car he totaled when he was fifteen.She had told him secrets in return, like how her ex-boyfriend had called her fat. Just thinking about it made him want to find the guy and punch his lights out. Emma was gorgeous, especially standing here in the moonlight.Jack moved up the porch and rested his arm on the door frame, capturing Emma. She turned, her eyes big as saucers. He wanted to kiss her more
Jack awoke the next morning to the sound of a text.Lawyers have question. Investors in Dubai. -RachelJack groaned, but knew it needed a response. Emma was still fast asleep, her head resting on his arm. He didn't want to move, didn't want to even risk waking her up, but he had to call the lawyers back or there would be a panic. Even on his vacation, he didn't really get a day off.He slipped out of bed and into his clothes from the day before. He searched for his shirt, finally finding it hanging on the top of a dresser on the other end of the room. He grinned remembering the noise Emma had made when she pulled it off of him. He kissed Emma's forehead before leaving the room. She murmured something and smiled in her sleep.Morning was already warming the white sands of the beach outside as he stepped onto the porch. The ocean was a soft green, reminding him of Emma's eyes. Only Emma's eyes had more depth.Jack sighed and hit the speed dial for Rachel.“The lawyers are at it early th
Emma stood out in the water, the waves lapping at the hem of her sundress. Jack's heart jumped to his throat. Her dark hair spilled down her back as she looked out toward the horizon. She was so beautiful and real it hurt.“Sorry I'm late,” Jack said, stepping out into the water. She spun, her eyes bright and relief flooding her face.“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” she said quietly. The hurt in her voice betrayed the smile on her face. His heart constricted. She thought he had left her.“Sometimes I hate my job. Even on vacation, I don’t really get a day off. I apologize for making you wait,” he replied somberly. His eyes shone with honesty as he reached her spot in the water. The last thing he had wanted to do was hurt her. “What are you doing out here?”“Chasing waves,” she explained. She smiled up at him, forgiveness in her eyes. “What would you like to do?”He kissed her, not wanting to wait another second to touch her. Her kiss made his knees go weak and he knew h
Jack couldn't remember a more pleasant afternoon. Emma had him laughing as she recalled nearly getting caught skinny dipping. The innocence and honesty of her stories made him want to wrap her up in his arms and never let her go. She was a breath of fresh air in his stagnant, money-filled world.White gauze streamers fluttered on a gazebo, catching his attention. He had heard of the booths being set up on the beach for weddings, but had never seen one. He stared at it for a moment, feeling the weight of his business responsibilities crash back onto his shoulders.Her eyes followed his gaze, and he nodded to the decorated awning, the wedding already set up as if waiting for them. “You ever think you'll get married?”“At the rate I’m going?” she asked. “No. You don’t even want to know the last time I went on a date. I want to, but, no one seems interested. I’ve kind of come to accept that I will be a crazy old cat lady someday.” Her voice was light, as if it were a joke only she got. It
Emma pushed open her door and nearly stepped inside before he caught her.“What do you think you're doing?” Jack asked, his eyes twinkling. Despite running along the beach, he wasn't out of breath from running. He was out of breath controlling himself with Emma. It had taken every ounce of willpower he processed to get her back to the hotel room. The only reason he had managed to wait was that it was technically their wedding. He was looking forward to this part.“Opening the door?” Emma cocked her head to the side, confused. She had sprinted just as hard to get back here.With a fluid motion, Jack scooped her up in his arms. She giggled as she realized what he was doing, wrapping her arms around his neck and holding him close. She pressed her nose into his throat and inhaled, taking in the scent of him. It made his heart race with primal need.He carried her to the bedroom, setting her down gently on the floor. She held onto him for an extra moment, as if she were soaking him into he
“When does your flight leave again?” Emma asked as she put the few things in her suitcase. She smiled, but her voice was bittersweet.Jack sighed, shifting his weight on the bed. He didn't want to leave and every time he told her he wished he could move it back. For the millionth time, he wished he could just stay on the island drinking in Emma's saltwater kisses. “It technically leaves whenever I am ready, but, I have to be back in New York by the close of business, so I need to leave in about fifteen minutes.”He was already packed and the jet fueled. All he had to do was say goodbye. And tell her who he really was.“I wish you didn’t have to go until evening,” she said quietly, more to herself than to Jack.“Me too, but planes can only fly so fast,” Jack answered. He shifted his weight again. He thought about leaving and not telling her who he was, but that would just be cruel. His face popped up on more magazines and tabloids than he really preferred and he didn't want her to find