Best book in 2017 (Billionaire at Sea)

Best book in 2017 (Billionaire at Sea)

Billionaire at Sea

A funny and romantic adventure written by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Kristen Middleton. When Mia James is hired to cater a high-profile bachelor party in the Caribbean with her friend Ridley, she is reluctant to do it, but needs the money. Then she meets Damian Stryker, the handsome, rich billionaire whose hired them, and finds herself trying to fight the attraction she has for the self-proclaimed playboy. Adult situations, sex, and language Cliff hanger Book 1/2.


 “Mia, are you there?” asked Ridley from the other end of the phone. “Yes,” I replied, gritting my teeth. “Why didn‟t you tell me that we were catering a bachelor party?” “Because I knew you‟d say „no‟,” she said, matterof-factly. “Because you knew I‟d say… for God‟s sake, Ridley, what in the world were you thinking?!” I snapped, seething inside. “You of all people should know that the last thing I want to do is place myself on a boat filled with drunken assholes for an entire week.” “Number one, it‟s a yacht. Number two, they‟re extremely rich assholes who will tip us very well. Number three, we only have to be around them for a couple of days and number four, the owner of the boat is Damian Stryker.”

“Yeah, so?” I answered, not recognizing the name and not giving a rat‟s ass if he was the president of the United States. The thought of being trapped, in the middle of the ocean, with a bunch of horned up, selfdeserving men made my skin crawl. If anything, I was hurt. Hurt because Ridley, one of my best friends in the world, had to know how upsetting this would be. Especially since my ex had cheated on me at his own bachelor party less than a year ago. “If you watched baseball, you‟d know he‟s the pitcher for the Tampa Bay–” “I don‟t care who this Damian guy is,” I replied, pacing back and forth in my living room. “Seriously, Ridley, you know why I don‟t want to do this.” “I‟m sorry, Mia. I really thought you‟d be over the incident with John by now. Besides, these are all strangers; for all we know, they‟ll be very well behaved.” “I‟m trying to get over it, but this certainly won‟t help,” I said miserably. My heart still ached from the memory of walking into our newly built house the morning after his stag party. I‟d been out of town for a catering convention with Ridley, and we‟d returned earlier than planned. I‟d found him naked and passed out in bed, but not alone. Apparently, one of the strippers from his party had given him a ride home in her fancy new Corvette, and then another in our bed. After waking him with a cold bucket of water, John had begged for my forgiveness, using the excuse that he hadn‟t remembered anything. But from the smirk on the 

stripper‟s face and the number of condom wrappers on the floor, I knew he was full of shit. “Look, I‟m sorry I didn‟t tell you. The truth is, we need this gig. I‟m behind on some bills and if we don‟t do something quickly, we‟re going to lose the catering van,” said Ridley. I groaned. “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “I knew we should have taken that Bar Mitzvah party last weekend.” “I had the flu. We couldn‟t.” “Maybe I could have tried doing it myself,” I murmured. “Listen to me – the guest list was too big and pulling it off would have been a nightmare.” “At least we‟d have been paid,” I replied glumly. “We will be paid big time if we take this gig.” I didn‟t say anything. “Come on, Mia,” she pleaded. “You even mentioned that you were having a hard time coming up with rent for next month. Damian Stryker is paying us enough money that you won‟t have to worry about it for the next six.” I sighed. “Look, all we have to do is prepare the meals and hand them off to the servers. We‟ll be in the kitchen most of the time and probably won‟t be anywhere near the guests.” Admittedly, that didn‟t sound completely horrible

“My brother told me that Damian‟s yacht is ridiculously huge. Seriously, I‟m sure we‟ll never have to deal with any of the drunken idiots.” Mia‟s brother was a sports agent and had a lot of connections. He‟d been the one who‟d set up our gig with Damian Stryker. When I‟d first learned that we‟d be spending an entire week cruising near the Virgin Islands, I‟d been ecstatic. Now, I felt nothing but anxiety. “Is your brother going to be there?” Michael was a decent guy and someone who I trusted to keep things under control. “No,” she replied. “It‟s a very private party and even he doesn‟t know who‟s going to be on the guest list. More than likely, a bunch of sports celebrities. You know, this could actually be the chance of a lifetime. It may even earn us more business, once they try our food.” As long as that was the only thing they tried tasting. I couldn‟t speak for myself, but Ridley was beautiful and men were always asking her out. She had a boyfriend, however, and wasn‟t the cheating kind. Even with someone rich, handsome, or famous. “I guess it does sound like a great opportunity,” I admitted, reluctantly giving in. “And, as you said, it‟s not like we have to be anywhere near these guys during the bachelor party.” “Exactly. All we have to do is make sure their tummies are happy. As far as other parts of their bodies, we‟ll let the strippers, or hookers, worry about that.”

“Yuck,” I replied, grimacing. “Do you really think there could be prostitutes at this thing?” “I don‟t know. They certainly have the money to get whatever it is that they want. I can‟t imagine a bachelor party without some kind of naked entertainment.” Hopefully, it would stop at pornos, but I didn‟t believe we‟d be so lucky. “So? What do you think? Are you in or out?” I stared outside of my living room window and smiled grimly. “What I think is that I‟m crazy for agreeing to this.” “But, you‟ll do it?” “Yes. It sounds like we don‟t have a choice. We both obviously need the money.” She squealed. “This job is going to change our lives. I can feel it in my bones.” All I felt was a tight knot in the pit of my stomach. Something told me she was right, but at what price?

2 Mia

 The following day, Ridley‟s brother, Michael, invited us both to dinner to discuss the trip and Damian Stryker. We had a week to plan the menu and purchase what we needed for the stag party, and I had yet to meet the man hiring us. “Michael said Damian is going to try and meet us for dinner,” she told me when we were in my kitchen and drinking coffee, earlier in the day. “So, wear that black cocktail dress of yours.” John had picked out that particular dress and I hadn‟t put it on in months. It was tight, flirty, and drew attention, which wasn‟t something I particularly wanted. Since breaking up with him, I‟d been taking a sabbatical from the opposite sex and still wasn‟t ready to return to the dating scene. Billionaire at Sea “Why?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. “Wait a second. You‟re not trying to set me up with this guy, are you?” She gave me an innocent look. “No. Of course not.” I stared at her hard. “Ridley…” “What?” she said, trying to keep a straight face. “Even I know that it would be totally unprofessional and in bad taste.” “You‟re damn right it would.” Removing a binder from around her wrist, she pulled her blonde hair back and made it into a ponytail. “I mean, if he finds you attractive, and decides to ask you out, that might not necessarily be such a bad thing, would it? He is rich and now very available.” “He‟s single?” I replied, not even sure why I was asking. I certainly wasn‟t interested in dating anyone and didn‟t know what this guy looked like, or even more importantly, how he treated women. “He was recently divorced,” she said. “From what Michael said, it was pretty messy.” “Let me guess… he had an affair,” I said dryly, knowing that I was being cynical but had good reason. “No. In fact, I think it was all her. They have a son together and it sounds like she‟s a shitty mother.” I sighed. “Really? That‟s too bad.” Ridley nodded. “Obviously, he travels a lot and apparently, she parties like a rock star. I‟m sure there‟s more to it than that, but Michael told me that Damian ended up getting full custody of their son. Poor kid. 

The woman must be truly neglectful to lose in court. You hardly ever see cases go that way.” “Or the judge is a big baseball fan,” I replied, taking a sip of coffee. Ridley shrugged. “I guess there‟s always that. Money and fame do strange things to people, even judges. Anyway, you still have to feel sorry for their son. I think he‟s only eight.” “Damn,” I replied, picturing a sad little boy who was probably missing the hell out of his mommy. Even if she was a party-animal, that didn‟t mean he loved her any less. “So, if Damian has full custody, does he take his son along with him when he travels?” “I have no idea. I‟m sure he has a nanny or something.” “So, basically, he probably doesn‟t get to see his father or his mother very much.” “Maybe, maybe not. On the other hand – his dad is a famous baseball player and probably spoils the crap out of him.” “Even so, money can‟t replace someone you love,” I replied, remembering when my parents had divorced. I‟d just turned eleven when it happened. My father had been an alcoholic and after many years of trying to get him to quit drinking, my mother couldn‟t take it anymore. One morning, after he‟d banged up the car because of drinking, she kicked him out of the house, refusing to let him back in until he sought treatment. Unfortunately, my father didn‟t believe he had a drinking problem, nor did he like ultimatums. He ended up getting his own place and I was able to Billionaire at Sea visit him every other weekend. Luckily, he was usually sober during those times, although I suspected it hadn‟t been easy for him. Tragically, he ended up passing out behind the wheel while returning home from a Christmas party, five years later. His car hit a tree and it was said that he died upon impact. My heart broke after hearing the news. As many problems as he had, I always knew that my father had loved me, and I‟d never stopped loving him. Ridley‟s eyes softened. “I know. You‟re right and I‟m sure you know that more than anyone. I‟m just saying that Damian Stryker wouldn‟t necessarily be such a bad catch.” “I‟m sure he wouldn‟t, but I‟m not interested in casting out any lines. Not right now, at least.” “Fine. I get it. But, it‟s been almost a year since John pulled that crap on you, and your social life is like a cat lady‟s, minus the cats. You might be missing out on the man of your dreams because you‟re living like a hobbit. And no, I‟m not necessarily talking about Damian.” “I know that this might be hard for you to comprehend, but my life doesn‟t have to revolve around a man or my search for the perfect one. I‟m quite happy being alone.” “You‟re quite happy sitting home every weekend, all by yourself?” she asked with a small smile. Admittedly, I did get bored and even missed John, at times. I sometimes had to stop myself from answering his calls or messages. Just last week he‟d sent me a text.

Mia, I know I made a mistake, but I love you and we can still have a life together… As usual, I‟d ignored him, although it hadn‟t been easy. “I‟m fine with my life right now. Besides,” I told her, “most of the weekends are tied up because of the business anyway. I don‟t remember many of them where I‟m sitting at home, bored out of my skull and miserable.” “Whatever. There‟s time. I find it with Adam. I am starting to think that you‟ve forgotten how to be single.” “Believe me, that‟s definitely not the case,” I said dryly. I was reminded of it every day when I woke up and found myself alone in bed. “Still, you need some fun in your life.” “I have fun.” I nodded toward my trusty camera sitting on the counter. “When I‟m bored I take that out.” “And take naked pictures?” she teased. “No. Of course not.” Ridley picked it up and turned it on. She began looking through my most recent photos, which I‟d taken at the beach, right before sunset. She glanced at me. “I mean, I have to admit, you take stunning pictures…” “Thank you.” My father had given me my first camera, after he‟d moved out of the house. I soon developed a passion for photography, but mainly as a hobby. Cooking was still my first love, which my mother had introduced to me Billionaire at Sea when I was old enough to look over the kitchen counter. The camera, on the other hand, brought me a different kind of joy. It captured moments in time that you‟d never get back, but could still reflect on fondly. “You know, Mia, you could probably sell a lot of these photos online,” she said, looking through more of them. “There are websites that allow you to do that.” “Why would I want to sell them?” She gave me a surprised look. “For money?! I mean, look at this photo. Whose dog is this? He‟s adorable enough and you were able to catch him at just the right moment, when he‟s airborne. And look at this one… it looks like something you‟d see in National Geographic.” I walked over and smiled at the pictures I‟d taken on Cocoa Beach. A man had let his Golden Retriever puppy loose near the water. He‟d allowed me to take a couple of shots while the animal taunted a ghost crab moving in the sand. “I doubt I‟m allowed to sell most of the pictures I‟ve taken, without getting a release form from the models.” “Something tells me that this one would have given you a „ruff‟ time,” she joked. I laughed. “Exactly. Anyway, this really is just a hobby. Not like cooking.” She handed me back the camera. “I guess I should be happy that you‟re not investing too much time with this or making it a career. I don‟t know what I‟d do without you.”

Although Ridley was a fantastic cook, and we‟d both graduated from culinary school together, she didn‟t have a lot patience, especially when it came to food preparation. If something went wrong it wasn‟t unusual for her to fly into hysterics. Usually, it was up to me to calm her down and get us back on track. “We do make a great team,” I agreed. “Although, it would be nice to start earning enough money that we could hire an assistant or two. Then we could start doing much larger parties.” At the moment, we were currently working out of Ridley‟s mother‟s gourmet kitchen in Miami. Her parents were loaded and owned three homes – one in Florida, one in Hawaii, and one in New York. Her father was some kind of real estate developer and they were currently in Maui on business. Although it was saving us a ton of money, we really wanted our own facility to work from and had been discussing the possibility of applying for a loan to do just that. “I‟m telling you, this gig we have coming up might just allow us to do something like that.” “How much is he paying us? You didn‟t really give me an actual figure yet,” I asked, before finishing the rest of my coffee. “Enough so I can purchase those Jimmy Choo sandals I saw at Sak‟s yesterday.” “Which is?” “Twenty grand. Plus, the cost of food,” she said, beaming. I stared at her in shock. Had I heard her correctly? “Twenty thousand dollars?” Billionaire at Sea She nodded. I knew she‟d said the money was going to be great, but I had no idea. “That‟s insane. How many guests?” I asked, elated now. “Roughly fifteen. I mean, we‟ll have our hands full. We have to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner from Friday through Sunday. And that‟s not including the actual party.” “Twenty grand. I can‟t believe it,” I replied, feeling a rush of excitement and relief, especially knowing that the bills really would get paid for the next few months. I could even afford to have someone look at my truck, which was making a clunking noise every time I turned a corner. “Are you sure he said „grand‟?” “I‟m positive. We‟ll verify it with him tonight, since he might be joining us for dinner. I seriously can‟t wait to meet this guy in person. Maybe I‟ll stop by Sak‟s on the way home and see if they still have those sandals in my size,” she said, grabbing her cell phone. “I‟d love to wear them tonight.” For the first time since I‟d heard the name Damian Stryker, I had to admit, I couldn‟t wait to meet him either. 

3 Mia

We drove separately and met Ridley‟s brother, Michael, at Café Bianca, a ritzy, five-star restaurant where it was usually impossible to get a reservation, unless you had connections. “How did you pull this off?” Ridley asked, after we were seated. “Was it Damian?” “Excuse me?” he asked, smiling wryly. “I‟ll have you know that I‟m a reputable agent now. Don‟t you think I have some pull in this city?” “It‟s Miami, not one of those hick towns you frequent, where anyone driving a BMW is considered a „big deal‟,” she teased. “No offense, Jerry Maguire.” He pretended to look hurt. “Obviously, you missed the memo, little sister. I am a big deal now and if you play your cards right with Stryker, you just might get an invitation to the club.” “It‟s one of the reasons why we‟ve agreed to catering a stag party,” she replied with a look of distaste. “And, of course, the money. Which reminds me… is Damian showing up tonight?” Billionaire at Sea “He‟s going to try,” replied Michael, sitting back in his chair. “Good,” she replied. “I‟m dying to meet him. So is Mia.” Michael looked at me. “Speaking of Mia… how are you doing tonight, gorgeous? That color looks amazing on you, by the way.” I blushed. I was wearing a coral and white sundress that even I had to admit, showed off my tan. “I‟m doing very well, thank you. What about you? Where‟s your husband this evening?” Michael had recently gotten married to a golf pro from Palm Beach. A man named Alex Torensen. Ridley and I had actually catered their reception, which had been relatively easy, since they‟d kept the wedding small. “He‟s working again. I swear, I see him less and less now that we‟re married,” said Michael, twirling his wedding ring around his finger. “But, in all fairness, he has his hands full with the clubhouse, especially now that he bought out the other owner and is running it all on his own.” “Really? That‟s wonderful news. Tell him congratulations for me, will you?” said Ridley. “I know he was talking about doing it for the past few months.” “He finally bit the bullet,” said Michael. “And, although he‟s busy, he‟s a lot happier. Hell, we both are.” “Alex must be relieved to be away from that asshole,” said Ridley.

“God, yes. The guy wasn‟t willing to change with the times, which was definitely hurting business. Not to mention the fact that when the prick found out Alex was gay, he showed his true colors.” He glanced at me, his smile grim. “A complete homophobe. He didn‟t even have the decency to try and hide it.” “Good riddance then. Alex is a wonderful man and shouldn‟t have to deal with that on top of everything else,” I replied. “By the way, tell him I said „hello‟ and wish him the best.” “I‟ll do that,” said Michael. “His offer still stands if you‟re ever interested in getting into the sport. Free lessons from the master himself. If he can teach me, he can teach anyone.” I chuckled. “That‟s very kind of him. Let him know that I might take him up on it one day.” “Will do,” he answered. “Not to change the subject, but did you find out who Damian‟s friend is that‟s getting married?” asked Ridley. “No. He‟s being really tight-lipped about the bachelor party,” he replied, examining the cocktail menu. I took a sip of my water and asked if it could be someone on his baseball team. Michael shook his head. “I doubt it. It‟s in the middle of the season and the only reason Damian is able to throw this party is because he retired last year.” “Really? Wow. I hadn‟t heard,” said Ridley, surprised. Billionaire at Sea “Since when have you followed baseball?” he asked, looking amused. “Growing up, you couldn‟t stand it.” “It wasn‟t that I hated baseball. I just got tired of you and dad always hogging the television to watch sports. If it wasn‟t baseball, it was football. If it wasn‟t football, it was basketball or hockey,” she said. “Oh, whatever. You never had time for television,” said Michael. “If I remember anything, it was that you were always off gallivanting with your friends and never home anyway.” “Technicalities,” she answered, smiling. “Anyway, Adam watches baseball religiously and has educated me on the sport. I‟m actually starting to like it.” Adam, Ridley‟s boyfriend, was definitely a huge sports fan. It seemed like it was all he usually talked about when I was around. “Really? That man is definitely a keeper.” Michael looked at me. “What about you? Do you like baseball?” “I have nothing against it. It‟s just a little boring to watch,” I admitted. “Did you just say that baseball is boring to watch?” exclaimed Michael, feigning a look of complete shock. “That‟s blasphemy.” I laughed. “I‟m sorry. I don‟t know. I guess I‟d rather play than watch.” “Which is why you should get back into the game,” said Ridley, grinning wickedly. “Get yourself some homeruns before you forget how to score.” “Get back into the game? Were you on a team?” Michael asked, missing Ridley‟s jab.

“When I was in grade school I played softball,” I replied, giving Ridley a warning look. “So, you lost interest?” Michael asked. “Not really. I just stopped playing,” I said. “You have a habit of doing that,” said Ridley with a glint in her eye. “I bet Damian Stryker knows his way around the field and plays a mean game of baseball.” I groaned. “Would you please stop?” “At least check out the size of his bat,” she said. Michael laughed. “Is my little sister trying to play matchmaker?” “Yes,” I said. “And it‟s very annoying.” “As you can see, she‟s uptight because she hasn‟t been laid in months,” Ridley told him. I gasped. “Ridley!” “What? I‟m only trying to help,” she replied, reaching for her glass of water. “I don‟t need your help,” I replied, even though she was right. I hadn‟t had sex since John. I wasn‟t uptight, however. At least, I didn‟t think I was. I just didn‟t like discussing my sex life over dinner and with her brother, who was now looking at me with pity. “Obviously. You‟re a beautiful woman and if you wanted a romp in the hay, I‟m sure guys would jump in line for a chance. Don‟t waste your time with Damian, however. His ex messed him up, big time. He‟s now going through women like you go through shoes, Ridley. Mia doesn‟t need that in her life.” “Believe me,” I said. “I don‟t care what Damian looks like or how big his bat is. I‟m not looking to hook Billionaire at Sea up with anyone. Especially a guy who‟s obviously a big player off of the field, too. Understand, Ridley?” She sighed. “Fine. I‟ll let it rest.” I‟d believe it when I saw it. “Changing the subject, did you happen to get those shoes you were talking about earlier?” I asked her. She gave me a pouty look. “No. They were out. I bought another pair, however. What do you think?” Ridley stuck her shoe out. It was a white sparkly pump, which went great with the lace cap-sleeve dress she wore in the same color. “Very pretty. Jimmy Choo?” I asked. “No, Valentino,” she replied. “More expensive but I couldn‟t resist.” “You can never resist, which is why you‟re always broke,” said her brother. She stuck her tongue out at him. He smiled and then looked past me. “Good. Our waiter must have punched in. I was beginning to think we were invisible.” “I was wondering what was taking so long myself,” said Ridley. The server approached our table. He was in his twenties and reminded me a bit of a younger Leonardo DiCaprio. “Good evening, my name is Ben. I‟m sorry to make you wait so long. Welcome to Café Bianca. Is this your first time here?” “Oh, heavens no,” said Ridley, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder. “Why would you ask that?” “Because I would have remembered someone as beautiful as you,” he replied, winking at her.

Ridley blushed. “Nice return. You know, you should be flirting with my brother. He‟s the one tipping tonight.” He turned to Michael and chuckled. “Well, good looks obviously run in the family. I hope you‟re not offended if I just keep it at that.” “Not at all,” he replied, smiling up at him. “But, I might be offended if you‟ve run out of prime rib. It seems like everywhere I go, there‟s a shortage.” “I‟m almost one-hundred percent sure that it‟s still available,” the waiter replied. “But, I‟ll check for you.” “Thank you,” he answered. “No problem.” He then went over the specials for the evening. “The salmon sounds fabulous,” said Ridley. “I‟m probably going to have that.” “People rave about it. By the way, could I start you out with something to drink?” he asked, this time looking at me. “Other than water?” I ordered a glass of white wine, while Ridley and Michael both ordered martinis. “Ben, just so you know – there might be another person joining us,” said Michael, looking at his watch. “A gentleman.” “Excellent. I‟ll keep watch after I put your orders in for the cocktails while you peruse the menu. Did you want to order an appetizer?” “I‟m sure we will. Give us a few minutes, if you could?” Michael replied. “Of course,” said Ben. He quickly refilled our water glasses. “I‟ll return shortly with fresh bread.” Billionaire at Sea “Thank you,” replied Michael. “I sure hope Damian can join us,” said Ridley, looking toward the entrance. “By the way, why isn‟t he playing baseball anymore? He can‟t be much older than thirty. Isn‟t that a little young to retire?” “He injured his arm and it hasn‟t been the same. I wouldn‟t ask him about it, by the way,” said Michael, lowering his voice. “It‟s a touchy subject.” “I bet,” I said. “So, how well do you really know this guy?” I asked, opening up the menu. “I met him at a party in Beverly Hills, about five years ago. Like me, he has an interest in classic cars and we‟ve attended some auctions together. In fact, two months ago, when I acquired my ‟67 GTO, Damian bought himself a ‟65 Shelby Cobra. Talk about a gorgeous car.” “Are those expensive?” asked Ridley. “That one was. I believe he paid over five-hundred thousand,” replied Michael. “And that was just on a whim.” “A whim? Sounds like my kind of guy. Too bad I‟m not single and hopelessly in love,” said Ridley. “I can‟t even imagine having that kind of money to throw around. He must have made a lot playing professional baseball,” I said in a low voice. “He certainly did but that‟s nothing compared to what he‟s inherited from his grandfather, who passed away three years ago. Apparently, the man once owned a shipping company and after he sold it, made some solid investments.” Michael lowered his voice. “Rumor has it that he‟s worth billions now.”

“Damian is?” asked Ridley. “Yes. But, you didn‟t hear it from me,” he replied. “Wow,” said Ridley, looking my way. “Maybe we should negotiate for more money.” “Don‟t you dare,” I told her. “He‟s already paying us more than enough.” “Of course I won‟t. I was only joking,” she answered, but I could tell she wasn‟t totally against the idea. I looked at Michael. “What about his parents? Are they gone?” I asked, wondering if he‟d inherited the family fortune all by himself. He nodded. “They died in a plane crash, when Damian was very young. He lived with his grandparents afterward.” “How horrible! And there are no brothers or sisters?” I asked. “Or aunts and uncles?” “I know that he has two living cousins from his mother‟s side,” he replied, staring over my head again. “One of them is a singer in a band.” “She is? Which one?” asked Ridley. “Why don‟t you ask him? He just walked into the restaurant,” said Michael.

4 Mia

 “Damn, I need to start watching more baseball,” murmured Ridley, staring at Damian as he headed our way. “Close your mouth. You‟re drooling,” Michael said in amusement. I couldn‟t blame her. He was drop-dead gorgeous, even with his slightly crooked nose, which I learned afterward, was the result of a fly-ball. “Even you must admit… he‟s hot,” she whispered to me. I nodded, noticing that we weren‟t the only ones checking him out. As Damian moved toward us, he seemed draw the attention of almost everyone in the room. Tall, broad shoulders, wavy, dark brown hair, and eyes that were a vibrant shade of blue. Michael stood up. “Look at what the cat dragged in. How‟s it going, Mr. Stryker?” “Very well, Mr. Blake,” he teased back. They shook hands, smiling at each other like long-time friends. “Sorry, I‟m late. Did you already order?” Billionaire at Sea “Just our drinks,” Michael replied. “I‟m glad you could make it. By the way, this is my sister Ridley and our dear friend, Mia.” “Ah… my two gourmet chefs,” he said, his eyes twinkling as he shook Ridley‟s hand. “Ridley, I know we‟ve spoken briefly on the phone. It‟s wonderful to finally get to meet you in person.” “You as well. We‟ve heard so much about you,” she said, her voice higher than usual. I bit back a smile. She‟d always been nervous around handsome men, even as beautiful as she was. Not only that, this one was filthy rich and had an impeccable taste in clothing. The gray wool suit he currently wore was no exception. It was obviously a designer, and his tie clip had to cost more than the expensive two karat ring I‟d thrown back in John‟s face. “Oh, hell,” he replied, glancing at Michael in amusement. “And they‟re still willing to cater for me?” “These two don‟t scare easily,” said Michael, smirking. “That‟s a relief. I can‟t really cook and I doubt we‟ll be able to order out when we‟re in the middle of the ocean,” he replied, turning toward me with his hand extended. “Hi, I‟m Damian.” “I‟m Mia,” I replied, as I shook his hand. “It‟s a pleasure to meet you. Have we met before?” he asked, studying my face. “You look very familiar.” “No. I don‟t believe so,” I replied. “Are you sure? I hardly ever forget a face. Do you live here in Miami?” he asked.

“Yes. Born and raised here,” I said. “Interesting,” he replied, sitting down on the other side of Ridley. I could smell a hint of his cologne, a light woodsy scent that was very nice. “Maybe it will come to me. I know I‟ve seen you somewhere.” The waiter took that moment to return with our drinks. Damian ordered a beer along with a slew of appetizers. “Sorry. I hope you don‟t mind,” he said, loosening up his tie. “I haven‟t eaten since this morning and I‟m fading quickly.” “No problem,” said Michael, smiling. “You‟re buying anyway, right? Go to town.” Damian smiled. “Of course I‟m buying.” “I‟m just giving you shit. You‟re my guest this evening, Stryker. If you even think about paying for this food, I‟ll take it as a personal insult,” said Michael. He laughed. “Fine. I‟d hate to get on your bad side. Speaking of money, my assistant should have deposited your funds into the account number you gave me over the phone, Ridley. As far as the food goes, have the merchants bill me directly or save your receipts so that we can figure that out as well.” “Oh. Gosh… thank you,” said Ridley. “I didn‟t realize you‟d pay us so quickly.” “I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly and you were locked in,” he replied, winking. “No backing out now.” “We wouldn‟t dream of it,” she answered. “Famous last words,” snickered Michael. Billionaire at Sea “No. Those will probably be – „What in the hell were we thinking by getting on board this nutcase‟s ship‟?” said Damian, chuckling. “Okay, now you two are scaring me,” said Ridley. “Don‟t worry, little sister. You‟re going to have the time of your life. Wait until you see his yacht. He took me out on it last summer. It‟s breathtaking. Not to mention enjoyable, especially when the captain kicks it down.” “Thank you,” said Damian. “I‟m glad you enjoyed yourself.” “Hell, yeah. It was a blast,” he answered. “Good. I‟ll have to invite you back,” said Damian. “Maybe next month sometime?” “I‟m there,” he replied, grinning. “Just say when and I‟ll clear up my schedule.” “I‟ll look at my calendar and give you a call tomorrow,” Damian said. Michael nodded. “Sounds good.” Ridley took a sip of her drink and then asked Damian if he captained the yacht himself or hired someone else to do it. “I have in the past, but not for this trip,” he answered. “There will be an entire crew on duty.” “Understandable,” she replied. “I‟m sure you‟d like to relax and enjoy yourself with the guests.” “Exactly. Speaking of our trip, have you come up with a menu yet?” he asked, eyeing a waiter carrying a tray of mouthwatering steak and lobster.

I cleared my throat. “We‟re working on it. Do you have any special recommendations or do you know if any of your guests have allergies?” “Not that I‟m aware of. They‟re all full grown men, however. If they‟re allergic to something, I‟ll leave it to them to avoid whatever it is that might not agree with them,” he replied. “I guess what I‟d like to see is plenty of seafood along with food favorable to guys with big appetites.” “Man-food,” said Ridley, glancing toward me. “In other words… things that go good with beer?” Damian chuckled. “Exactly. Nothing too fancy. You know like… chicken wings, nachos, burgers, pizza, steak, ribs.” “Okay, what about breakfast or brunch?” asked Ridley, pulling out a pen and small pad of paper from her purse. “Eggs, pancakes… sausage and French toast. Hash browns. Maybe some fruit on the side. Items like that. Again, nothing too fancy, although, I‟m not against egg soufflés, crepes, or frittatas, if that‟s what you specialize in. Most of these guys are used to eating big, hearty meals.” “Noted. By the way, who is the guest of honor?” asked Ridley, smiling at him. Damian smiled back. “You‟ll find out when you‟re on board. I promised him I wouldn‟t divulge the information.” “He‟s famous then?” she asked. “Just a little,” Damian replied, his eyes glittering. “A baseball player?” asked Ridley. Billionaire at Sea “Enough,” said Michael. “Quit antagonizing him.” He looked at Damian. “Sorry. My sister can be a real pain in the ass when it comes to secrets. She just has to know everything.” “He‟s right. It‟s an annoying habit. I‟m sorry,” she said, blushing. “It‟s okay,” he answered. “If I could tell you, I would. I‟ll give you a hint, though, he‟s been on stage and screen.” “Really?” said Ridley, glancing at me. “How exciting.” “Just don‟t ask me anything else about the guy. That‟s probably more than I should have admitted,” said Damian. “Has he been in anything recently?” asked Ridley. Michael and I both groaned. “He said „no more questions‟ about the guy,” reminded Michael firmly. “I know,” she replied, as the waiter returned with Damian‟s beer. “I‟m just so excited about next week.” “Good,” said Damian. “So am I. It‟s going to be a lot of fun. For all of us.” “That‟s what I keep telling Mia,” said Ridley. She looked at me. “See? Nothing to worry about.” Damian, catching that, looked at me. “I‟m sorry, you have some concerns?” “No. Not at all,” I said quickly. “She was just a little anxious about the event you‟re hosting,” admitted Ridley, who obviously didn‟t know when to stop talking. “You know – a bachelor party.” I gave her a warning look. 

“Ah. Well, you can be rest assured that there‟s nothing for you to worry about,” said Damian. “My guests will act like gentleman around you and if they don‟t, they‟ll answer to me.” “I‟m not worried at all,” I said, feeling a little embarrassed. “I just–” I stopped abruptly. I wasn‟t about to tell him about my ex and what had happened. “I understand your concern,” he said, after taking a sip of his beer. “It‟s a bachelor party and they‟re known to get out of hand. This one is going to be more of a weekend of vacationing among friends. We‟re going to fish, eat, and drink. As far as raising some hell, if we do, I assure you, it‟s not going to affect you girls. I will personally make sure of that.” I relaxed. “Besides… the yacht is large enough that if we start swinging from the chandeliers and acting like fools, you‟ll be far from it,” he said with a wink. “What‟s a bachelor party without a little craziness anyway?” added Michael, raising his martini glass. “I say we make a toast right now.” We all raised our drinks. “What‟s the name of your boat?” Michael asked. “Home Run,” he replied. “Big surprise there, right?” Ridley chuckled. “Because that‟s what life is all about, right? Going all the way and scoring big?” “Exactly,” said Damian. “Couldn‟t agree more. So… here‟s to „what happens on the Home Run, stays on the Home Run‟,” said Michael. Billionaire at Sea “And here‟s to Mia making a homerun, on the Home Run,” whispered Ridley. I kicked her foot.

5 Mia

After finishing the glass of wine, my tongue loosened up and I started to actually enjoy myself. I also found Damian‟s sense of humor and easygoing manner a relief. From what I could tell, he wasn‟t a snob, even though the man was rich enough to buy an island. In fact, he mentioned at one point that he‟d been considering doing just that. “That sounds so exciting,” said Ridley. “Would you live there exclusively or would it be more of a getaway?” “A getaway,” he answered. “For myself. My family. My closest friends.” Ridley laughed and raised her martini glass. “Here‟s to building long-lasting, close friendships.” Damian smiled and raised his beer. “Especially with two gourmet chefs. Like I mentioned before, I‟m not much of a cook and always need help in that department, especially if I do end up acquiring some off-shore property. I‟d hate to have to stock my freezer with pizza and pot-pies. I do that enough as it is.” “You certainly don‟t seem the type to indulge in too many frozen meals,” I said, thinking out loud. Billionaire at Sea “Maybe not frozen, but when the employees at Chipotle see me walk through the door, they have my order finished before I make it to the counter,” he replied. “I eat out far too much.” “A busy man like you doesn‟t have a personal chef making your meals?” asked Ridley. “I have a housekeeper who stops in a couple times a week and a fulltime nanny for my son, Jake. Thank goodness she can cook and feeds him most of his meals. As for me, I usually eat on the fly,” he answered. “Speaking of your son, do you have a picture of him?” I asked. Damian reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. When he showed us a picture of his son, my heart melted. He was a younger, softer version of Damian, with more dimples. “He‟s adorable,” I said, handing the photo to Ridley. “He is,” said Ridley, looking at it. She handed it back to him. “He looks just like you.” “That‟s what everyone tells me.” His eyes gazed lovingly at the photo before he put it back into his wallet. “Why don‟t you hire someone to cook for you and Jake fulltime?” asked Ridley. “Or at the very least, have someone create your meals ahead of time?” “She‟s right. You could reheat them up in the microwave. That would have to be far better than fast food,” said Michael. 

“I‟ve been considering it, especially now that Jake is living with me and I‟ve retired,” he replied. “Speaking of retirement,” said Ridley. “How‟s that been going for you?” Michael gave her a stern look. Damian shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I‟ve been so busy with my personal life that I haven‟t had time to really think about it.” “I‟m sure you have. Anyway, back to what we were talking about,” said Michael, giving Ridley a warning look. “I know a very good realtor who specializes in island property, so when you‟re ready to purchase, let me know. I‟ll find his number for you. He has excellent references and is very discreet.” “Thanks,” replied Damian. “I‟d love to buy an island someday,” said Ridley, with a dreamy look in her eyes. “Maybe even open up a resort of some kind.” She looked at me. “With our own restaurant.” She‟d mentioned it before. I knew it was well out of our reach, however. We‟d need millions and could barely stay on top of the bills we had now. “It sounds lovely, although, to be honest, the idea of being at the mercy of an island frightens me a bit,” said Michael. “What if there‟s a hurricane or some other kind of natural disaster?” “We‟d have a helicopter to whisk us away from the island,” she replied. “Hell, let‟s just have a weatherman on speed-dial. That way we‟ll have advance warning of impending doom,” I said with a wry smile. Billionaire at Sea Damian looked amused. “Sounds like you both have it all figured out.” “I don‟t know about that,” she said, staring at her glass. “But, I think everyone needs something to strive for. And… why not shoot for the stars, right?” “I admire you for dreaming big. If it wasn‟t for dreams, I‟d have never played professional baseball. In fact, my grandfather wanted me to go to Harvard so one day I could take over his shipping corporation. To his disappointment, running a business wasn‟t my dream. Just his.” “I imagine he got over it when you became a successful player,” said Ridley. “It‟s hard to say. He was a stubborn man, just like his grandson,” replied Damian, his lip curling up. “You? Stubborn?” said Michael, feigning disbelief. “The hell, you say!” Damian chuckled. “Let me tell you something,” said Michael, looking at me and Ridley. “This guy puts the „stub‟ in stubborn. Or maybe it‟s the „orn‟. I don‟t know, but once he sets his mind to something, it‟s all over but the crying.” Damian sighed. “You just won‟t let that go, will you?” “Let what go?” asked Ridley. “Oh, he‟s talking about this car I bought last year, at an auction,” said Damian. “He didn‟t particularly even want the damn thing, but ended up in a bidding war, just so this young punk wouldn‟t get his hands on it,” said Michael.

“What do you mean?” asked Ridley. “Have you ever heard of „The Junkyard Jackass‟?” asked Michael. Ridley snorted. “No, I can‟t say that I have.” “He was the other bidder. Apparently, he has this YouTube channel. It‟s very popular, from what he told everyone at the auction,” said Damian dryly. “Anyway, this asshole records himself destroying expensive collectables, just for the hell of it.” “Seriously?” I asked, frowning. “Why?” “For profit on the ads associated with his channel, and I‟m sure he gets off on it, too,” said Damian. “Anyway, we overheard how he wanted this ‟57 Porsche Speedster to be his next target. Apparently, he‟d been wanting one for a long time, mainly because his old man loves them.” “They must be very close,” I said dryly. He snorted. “No shit. Talk about dysfunctionality. Anyway, I just couldn‟t let him have the car, knowing what he wanted to do with it.” “I bet Junkyard was angry,” said Ridley. “That‟s putting it mildly. He threw a childish tantrum,” said Michael, “and threatened Damian, right there at the auction. Said he‟d ruin him through social media.” Smiling, I shook my head. “You must have been trembling in your boots.” Damian chuckled. “I‟m thinking that if I actually used social media, I‟d have gained some new followers, considering what a little douchebag he is.” Billionaire at Sea “You don‟t have a Twitter or Facebook account?” asked Ridley. “No. I understand why some people do it. It‟s just not my thing.” “We use it for our business,” I said. “Other than that, I try to stay away from social media and internet as much as possible.” “It‟s handy in many ways but it‟s also poisoning our youth,” said Damian. “Kids aren‟t outside like they used to be. It‟s a shame.” “I agree,” I said. “And if they are outside, their faces are glued to their cell phones.” “Yeah,” he said. “It‟s pretty ridiculous.” “And guys like Junkyard are making a killing off of it. By the way, what happened after he threatened you at the auction?” asked Ridley. “He and his entourage were escorted out by security guards,” Michael said. “It was quite a scene.” “I can only imagine,” I said, taking another sip of wine. “Well, hopefully you‟ll never have to see that little shit again.” “I hope not, but if I ever do, I‟ll make sure to tell him how much I love my Speedster and thank him for bringing the car to my attention,” said Damian. We all laughed.

6 Mia

 As we were finishing up our meals, Damian asked if we had any other plans for the evening. “My cousin‟s band is performing at this nightclub, just a few blocks away from the restaurant. I told her I‟d stop by,” he explained. “I‟d love it if you could join me. Kendall is the lead singer and she has an incredible voice.” “She does indeed. I heard her sing before,” said Michael, setting his fork down. “She reminds me a little of Adele.” “It sounds like fun. We don‟t have any plans,” Ridley answered quickly. “Do we, Mia?” I was about to protest when I saw the pleading look in her eyes. “Uh… sure. Maybe for just one drink.” “Wonderful. What about you, Michael?” Damian asked. Michael looked at his watch. “I‟m game. But just for one drink. I have to be up early in the morning for a meeting.” “Sounds great,” said Damian. “Parking is kind of crazy over there, so why don‟t I have my limo drive all four of us to the club? When you‟re ready to leave, I‟ll Billionaire at Sea have him pick you up in front and drive you back to your cars.” “Wonderful,” said Ridley. “Mia and I haven‟t been to a nightclub in ages together. Plus, I‟d love to hear your cousin, Kendall, sing.” “She‟s incredible. By the way, if anyone is worried about drinking and driving, my driver can always drop you off at home instead, and I‟ll arrange to have your vehicle delivered in the morning,” Damian said. “Thanks, Damian. We‟ll definitely keep that in mind.” Ridley pulled out her cell phone and stood up. “I‟m going to call Adam and let him know that it‟s probably going to be a late night. I‟ll be right back.” I groaned inwardly. Something told me that she was going to force me into staying until close, whether I wanted to or not. “Actually, I think I should probably use the men‟s room before we go,” said Michael, standing up. “I‟ll be back.” “You might want to go, too. I‟m sure the club will be packed and the lines long,” said Damian. I sighed. Although I was intrigued with wanting to hear his cousin sing, nightclubs just weren‟t my thing anymore. “Cheer up,” said Damian in a low voice, staring at me. “You‟re going to have a fun time tonight. I guarantee it.” Was I that easy to read? I laughed nervously. “Oh, I‟m not worried. Thanks for inviting us; it‟s very kind of you.”

“No problem and to be honest, I wasn‟t really looking forward to going alone. I try and stay away from the club scene myself. I‟m only doing it because of Kendall.” “I hear you. I‟m not a big fan either, but… I really am excited to hear your cousin sing.” He smiled. “Good. This will also give us some time to get to know each other a little better.” There was something in his stare that made my stomach flutter. Was he coming on to me? Dismissing the ludicrous idea, I shrugged. “Believe me, there isn‟t much to learn about my boring life. Not that I‟m unhappy,” I said quickly, noticing the sudden disapproval in his eyes. “I‟m just more of a homebody these days.” He studied my face. “That‟s unacceptable. You‟re a young, beautiful woman. You should be having the time of your life right now.” “I am. I mean,” I smiled. “I suppose it could always be better.” “In other words, you‟re bored?” he said. “I‟m… comfortable,” I said, not wanting to admit that I wasn‟t exactly living the „high life‟. “Comfortable, huh? My grandfather always said that to live a complete and fulfilling life, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone.” I didn‟t reply. He put his hand over mine. “I think it‟s time for you to take that step. Tonight.”



 Mia pulled her hand away quickly, her cheeks turning red. “I‟m sorry. I didn‟t mean to embarrass you,” I said, wondering what in the hell I‟d been thinking anyway. Yeah, she was gorgeous and there was no question that I wouldn‟t mind fucking her. But, after the mistake with my ex-wife, Marissa, I‟d vowed to never mix business and pleasure again. In my early twenties, I‟d hired Marissa as my interior decorator, and we‟d hit it off right away. Love followed, as did marriage and our son, Jake Unfortunately, she changed dramatically over the next few years. She started partying hard and then there‟d been the one-night affairs. I‟d even caught her cheating on me with one of my teammates, Pete White. Not only had it ended our marriage permanently, but my future in baseball. The night I confronted Pete, I injured my shoulder, destroying the only thing that really mattered to me, besides my son, my pitching career. Even worse, Pete ended up recovering fully from a couple of broken ribs and recently moved into my old house, with Marissa. My only consolation was that I was able to get full custody of Jake, without a Billionaire at Sea fight, by agreeing to keep Pete‟s name out of the media. As much as I hated him, I‟d started the fist fight and knew they‟d use it against me in court anyway. My lawyer had advised me into agreeing to their demands, along with a healthy divorce settlement for Marissa. She walked away with the house and ten million dollars. In turn, I had my son and she was only allowed monitored visits, at least until I agreed to give her more than that. It was a small price to pay, especially knowing that Jake would never have to walk in and see his mother snorting coke or in bed with the man who‟d ruined his father‟s career. “It‟s okay,” she said, still looking flushed. “It may sound weird, but I‟m just not used to being touched.” I had to bite my tongue from asking if she‟d like me to help her get over it. Enough, I told myself, blaming it on the beer and the fact that I hadn‟t had sex for two months. “Don‟t apologize. I should have warned you that I‟m a toucher,” I lied, feeling the tension in the air. “It‟s just my way. You should have seen Michael when I grabbed his hand the first time.” I chuckled. “He looked at me like I was making a move.” Relaxing, she smiled. “I bet he almost wished you had been.” “Maybe, but he knows I‟m into women only.” Just then, Ridley made it back to the table. She sat down, an irritated look on her face. “Did you get ahold of Adam?” asked Mia. “Yes.” She sighed. “He‟s actually jealous. Can you believe it? I suppose it‟s partly because we‟re hanging

out with you,” she replied, looking at me. “He loves baseball.” “He can join us if he wants,” I replied. “The more the merrier and I‟d love to meet him.” “Oh, he would love that, but his friends are over. They‟re playing poker,” she answered. “He did ask if I could get your autograph.” I laughed. “Sure, if he really wants it. It‟s probably not worth anything these days.” “Nonsense,” said Ridley. “You‟re a legend. You may have retired but you‟ve had an impressive career, even I know that. Especially winning the World Series four years ago. That must have been so exciting.” “It was,” I admitted, thinking back to that time. My life had been perfect. Marissa and I‟d been happy. We‟d had Jake. Winning the World Series had been icing on the cake. Ridley looked at Mia. “You‟re very quiet. I think it‟s time to head out and get the party started before you change your mind.” “I‟m not going to change my mind,” she answered softly and then stood up. “I should probably use the bathroom before we leave.” Mia grabbed her purse. “I‟ll be back.” Ridley and I watched as she stepped away from the table. I could barely take my eyes off of her long legs. The woman was stunning in every way. “So,” said Ridley, turning to look at me. “Are you dating anyone right now?” Billionaire at Sea Ridley no longer surprised me. I liked the fact that she was direct and to the point. “That depends on what you mean by „dating‟.” “As in „seeing anyone seriously‟,” she replied. “No.” “What do you think of Mia?” “She‟s beautiful. Sexy,” I admitted. “But…” “Not exactly what you‟re looking for,” she said. “I‟m not looking for anything, to be honest.” “I somehow knew that you were going to say that. It‟s a pity, too, because you‟re obviously a good guy.” “Good guy? So, I do have most women fooled,” I joked. “Apparently,” she said, smiling. “Anyway, I think I‟m a pretty good judge of character and I just thought that you and Mia… Well, you know.” I chuckled. “Don‟t get me wrong… any man would be lucky to have Mia and I hope she finds herself a good one. I‟m just not that guy.” “Too soon?” “No. I‟m long over my divorce,” I admitted. “The truth is that I‟m not looking to settle down and I enjoy being a bachelor. Honestly, I couldn‟t offer a woman anything more than a one-night stand.” “Right now, I think she‟d even benefit from a quick roll in the hay,” said Ridley dryly. “She needs someone to bring her back.” “What do you mean, „bring her back‟?” Ridley explained that Mia had been fucked over by her ex and how she was still struggling with it. 

“She‟s turned into a hermit and I‟m worried about her.” I smiled. “She did mention that she was a homebody.” Ridley went on. “I don‟t know. I guess I shouldn‟t be telling you all of this. It‟s just that I miss her laughter and that light that used to be in her eyes. I honestly think she‟s still in mourning. That bastard doesn‟t deserve her attention anymore,” Ridley said angrily. “It takes time,” I said, now understanding Mia a little better. She and I actually had more in common than I‟d thought. “That‟s what she keeps saying, but I don‟t see her getting any better. She needs some help,” said Ridley. “Right, but I don‟t know if she‟d appreciate you trying to set up a booty call for her, though.” Ridley laughed. “What do you mean? That‟s what best friends are for.” My friends had pretty much done the same thing for me after Marissa and I split up. Introducing me to supermodels and actresses. For me, it had worked. At least to a point, and shamelessly, I‟d used sex to selfmedicate during my lowest time. But something told me that Mia needed much more than a one-night stand, which really was the only thing I was capable of. “Honestly, I‟d like to help you out but since we‟ll be working together, it can‟t happen anyway. I‟m sure you understand.” “Help her out with what?” asked Michael, sitting back down. Billionaire at Sea “Nothing,” said Ridley, looking innocent. “Uh, oh. If I know my sister, she‟s up to something that could get one of us into trouble,” he said with a half-smile. “I‟m sorry for leaving you alone with her.” Ridley gave him a scalding look. “Very funny.” I chuckled. “She means well and I do appreciate her tenacity,” I said, as the waiter walked back toward us with the bill. “Say that now,” said Michael. “Wait until the trip. You might want to toss her into the ocean. Just make sure you‟re deep enough out. She‟s a pretty good swimmer.” “Noted,” I said, winking at Ridley. Ben set the bill down on the table and I grabbed it before Michael could. He gave me a dirty look. “You can pay next time,” I told him. “You said that last time.” “Did I?” I replied, knowing that I had. I didn‟t mind paying. I enjoyed treating my friends. “Can I get you anything else before you leave?” the waiter asked. “A muzzle,” said Michael. “For my sister. Something tells me her tongue is going to be the death of her in the next few days.” Ridley slugged him in the shoulder playfully. “You‟re so mean to me,” she pouted as the waiter walked away, smiling. “Now, now. You know I love you, Ridley. Even with that trouble-making mouth of yours,” he answered and then looked at me. “I don‟t know how 

you do it. Women are such complicated creatures. Men are no-nonsense and easy-peasy.” “He‟s definitely no-nonsense,” joked Ridley, nodding toward me. “Although, I have to admit that I respect you more because of it, Damian Stryker.” “Thank you. The feeling is mutual.” She grinned. Michael rolled his eyes. “I don‟t even want to know what you‟re talking about, do I?” “Probably not,” I told him. Mia took that moment to return to the table. Staring at her again, I had to wonder what kind of fool would risk losing such beautiful woman for a one-night stand? Apparently, I would soon find out.

8 Mia

 “You‟ve got to be kidding me,” muttered Ridley, staring over my shoulder as I took my first sip of the cocktail she‟d handed me. We were at the club, in the VIP section, which, thankfully, was not as crowded as the rest of the place. The area by the bar, however, was busy and Damian and Michael were still waiting for their drinks. Ridley, being Ridley, had gotten the bartender‟s attention the moment she‟d approached. “What‟s wrong?” I asked loudly over the music as I took another sip of the fruity drink. It tasted like pineapple juice mixed with a hint of cherry. I licked my lips. “Damn, this is so good. You can‟t even tell there‟s booze in it.” “You‟re going to need something much stronger when I tell you who‟s here,” she said as I glanced toward Damian again. He‟d discarded his jacket and tie in the limo, and had rolled up his sleeves. I‟d been surprised at how strong and muscular his arms appeared, especially for someone who‟d injured his shoulder. “What do you mean? Who‟s here?” Looking me in the eye, she leaned closer and dropped the hammer. “I just saw your ex. John.” Billionaire at Sea I stared at her in horror. “What? Where?” She grabbed ahold of my forearm before I could look for him. “Don‟t you dare turn around. In fact, just pretend you‟re not even aware that the prick is here,” she ordered. “Damn it. This is just my luck. I never get out and now when I do, he shows up at the same place. I mean what are the odds?” She grunted. “I know, right?” I bit my lower lip. “Is he alone?” “Do you really care?” “No. Yes. God, I don‟t know,” I replied, hating myself for still feeling something toward him. With a look of disapproval, she glanced toward him again. “He‟s definitely not alone. He has his arm around some big-boobed bimbo with a dress so short, you can almost see her twat,” she muttered just as I took a big sip of my cocktail. Not expecting her to say the word “twat”, it went down the wrong hole and I began to cough. “Sorry,” she said, patting me on the back. “It‟s… okay,” I said hoarsely after composing myself. “I‟ve just never heard you say that word before.” Ridley grinned. “I don‟t know why, but it felt good to say it. I mean, she must be a twat to be dressed like that and here with the likes of him, right?” The thought of seeing John with another woman, twat or not, made me nauseous. “I‟ve got to get out of here,” I said, my eyes darting toward the exit sign.

Her smile fell. “No way. You are not leaving. We both owe it to Damian to stick around. Just, ignore the asshole and try to have a good time.” She was right. I knew it. Still, my heart was pounding in my chest at the thought of facing him. It had been several months since our last meeting and it was obvious that he still had an enormous effect on me. “Are you okay?” asked Damian, walking toward us. Stopping, he stared down at me, concern in his blue eyes. “You look upset.” “Me? Upset? No, I‟m fine,” I lied, forcing a smile. “I just took a sip of my cocktail and it went down the wrong hole. Can‟t take me anywhere, right?” Damian didn‟t look like he totally believed me. “Don‟t worry about Mia. She‟s fine,” said Ridley, laughing nervously. “It‟s just been so long since she‟s had a real cocktail that she‟s apparently forgotten how to use a straw.” “Exactly. So, when is your cousin performing?” I asked, wide-eyed. He looked down at his watch. “Any time, I guess.” “We should go and grab that table over there before someone else does,” said Michael, now also standing next to us and holding a beer. “It‟s overlooking the stage. We‟ll have a great view.” “Sounds good,” said Damian, touching my elbow. He began leading me toward the table. “Are you sure you‟re okay?” he asked. “Yes. I‟m fine. Really,” I replied with a reassuring smile as I sat down at the table. Billionaire at Sea “You had me worried there for a minute,” he said, sitting next to me. The side of his leg touched mine and it was as if a shock went through me. I nonchalantly moved my leg away. “You‟re sweet but I‟m fine.” “Good. Ireally want you to enjoy yourself tonight.” “Thank you. I am already.” “We all are,” said Ridley, sitting across from me. “And that limo was gorgeous. Is it yours?” It had been an unmarked, black stretch limo stocked with champagne and other alcoholic beverages. “No. To be honest, I only use them when I‟m going out on the town and plan on drinking, which isn‟t very often. Normally, I prefer driving myself.” “I imagine you have a lot of cars, if you‟re visiting auctions,” said Ridley. “They are one of my many weaknesses,” he admitted. “But I collect mostly older model and classic cars that are hard to come by. I like to think of them as investments. That‟s what I tell myself, anyway.” “How many do you own?” she asked. “If you don‟t mind me asking?” “Ten,” he answered, taking a sip of his drink. “Plus, the two I drive frequently, which are my Beemer and pickup.” “What kind of a BMW?” she asked. “It‟s a Series 7,” he answered. “Are they nice?” she asked. “I had my eye on a Series 6 convertible last year. Almost bought it but then things fell through.”

“I enjoy it. I should, for the money. But, to be honest, I enjoy my pickup even more. I guess I‟ve always been more of a truck guy.” “I love trucks, too,” I told him. “I own one myself.” He looked surprised. “You do? What kind?” “A Silverado, regular cab. It‟s an older model, but I love it,” I told him. “I‟m impressed. I don‟t know why, but I pegged you as driving a little sporty car,” he answered. “I like them. I would just never own one myself,” I replied, thinking about how safe my truck made me feel. High, and off the ground. John, however, had loathed driving it. He was the one who preferred fast, expensive cars. Ones that got him noticed. The song ended and another one began. “I can‟t wait to hear Kendall sing. What‟s the name of her band?” asked Michael, who was sitting next to Ridley. Before Damian could reply, Ridley pointed down toward the stage and said, “Obviously, it‟s called „Final Call‟.” “I like that,” said Michael, nodding in approval. “Final Call.” “Which is how long I plan on staying until. Final Call,” she replied with a little smile. Ridley winked at me. “And you are, too.” “We‟ll see,” I answered, taking another sip of my drink. Ridley‟s face suddenly turned stormy. Her eyes met mine and she gave me a warning look. Before I could figure out exactly why, John was suddenly standing next to our table. Surprisingly, he was alone. Billionaire at Sea “Hey, you made it,” said Damian, apparently knowing my ex. Ridley and I looked at each other in shock. Smiling, Damian held out his hand. “Good to see you.” John shook it. “Good to see you too, Stryker.” He looked at me. “Hello, Mia. What a surprise.” “Hello,” I said, noticing the longing in his eyes. It reminded me of the last time we‟d spoken in person, when he‟d once again begged me to forgive him. Trying to keep my hand from shaking, I lowered my eyes and began sipping my drink again. I could feel him still staring at me, and it made me even more uncomfortable. “You two know each other?” asked Damian. “We do,” he answered. Before John could elaborate, Ridley spoke up. “Hello, John,” she said, icily. His smile was just as cool. “Hello, Ridley.” “What a small world,” said Damian. “Apparently.” John looked over at Michael. “I didn‟t know you three knew Stryker, here.” He put his hand on his shoulder, as if staking claim on him. “Interesting.” “And we didn‟t know that you knew him,” Ridley replied. “How do you guys know each other?” “He‟s my lawyer,” said Damian. I could tell that Ridley was about to make a snide comment and I kicked her under the table. She looked at me in surprise.

I gave her a stern look. I didn‟t want her to start on him. I just wanted John to go away, and as quickly as possible. “Where‟s your date?” asked Ridley, not exactly ignoring my warning. “Date?” repeated John. “Yeah. The blonde you were with a few minutes ago,” she answered. I looked back up to see him answer. “Oh, you must mean Tracy. She‟s in the bathroom, freshening up. And, she‟s not my date,” he said. “She‟s my secretary.” Just then, his “secretary”, who looked more like a porn star, was at his side, smiling widely at Damian. She had long, platinum blonde hair, and wore a gold, shimmery dress that stopped just below her butt. It was obvious that if Tracy bent over, she‟d be giving quite a show. And then there were her oversized breasts that someone had bought and paid for. I wondered how long she‟d been his secretary and if he‟d funded the project. “Hello, Mr. Stryker,” she said in a voice that sounded like Betty Boop. “Thank you so much for inviting us tonight! And I‟ve never been in the VIP area.” She went on excitedly. “I just can‟t wait to hear your wife sing!” “That would be my cousin,” replied Damian, smiling at her in amusement. “She‟s the one in the band.” Billionaire at Sea Tracy giggled. “Oh. Sorry. That‟s right, your cousin. I can‟t wait to hear her sing. I‟ve been looking forward to this all week.” “Stryker divorced his wife,” said John, a pained expression on his face. “That‟s why he came to us.” “Oh… now I remember. Lucky for you, right? He‟s free and clear,” she said, giving me a conspiring wink. She slid her arm around John‟s waist and leaned into him. “How long have you two been going out?” Seeing her arms around my ex was bad enough, but then I suddenly recognized Tracy. She’d been the one in my bed! The realization hit me like a ton of bricks and everything seemed to come back to me at once from that night. Seeing him in bed with her. The smell of sex in the room. The shame and guilt on his face. My heart breaking. It was almost too much for me to handle. Tracy‟s smile fell as she stared at my face. “Are you okay?” she asked, looking genuinely concerned. I looked at John, hating him more than anything at that moment. It took every effort not to throw my drink at him. “Mia?” said Ridley, reaching for my hand. “Honey?” I took a deep breath and forced myself to smile. There was no way I‟d show my real emotions. He wasn‟t worth it. “I‟m fine.” “She didn‟t look fine,” said Tracy. “I honestly thought she was going to pass out there for a minute.” Ridley gave her a dirty look. “I‟m just tired,” I said. “I‟m okay, though.”

“Back to your question, we are actually on our third date,” said Damian, putting his arm around me. “Fortunately, she‟s not sick of me yet and agreed to go out again.” Date? Stunned, I didn‟t know what to say. But, Ridley did and wasted no time in supporting his story. “Oh, Damian. I doubt she‟d ever get sick of you.” She looked at John. “He is so sweet to Mia. In fact, he‟s bringing us both on a cruise very soon. I still can‟t believe he invited me to go along as well. That just shows what a kind and thoughtful guy he is.” I looked over at Michael, who was quiet but looking very amused. “Really? John and I are taking a cruise in the winter. What cruise line are you going through?” Tracy asked. “We‟re actually taking my yacht,” said Damian. Tracy stared at him, her mouth open. “You have your own yacht?” “He does and you should see it. The thing is massively huge,” said Ridley, thoroughly enjoying herself. “Just like his house. His limo. His truck. Hell, Mia, I bet there‟s nothing small about the man. If you know what I mean. By the way, what size shoe do you wear, Damian?” I coughed. “Leave it to my sister to bring cock into the conversation,” said Michael, dryly. “I guess the fascination runs in the family.” Billionaire at Sea “Hey, you‟re the one who told me that there is a correlation between the size of a man‟s foot and his penis,” said Ridley, sounding a little tipsy. “I only mentioned „theoretically‟ that there might be,” replied Michael. “Oh, I heard there is. And their hands, too,” said Tracy. ”Seriously.” Unable to help myself, I glanced at Damian‟s hands. They were sizeable. Much bigger than John‟s. “Enough already,” said John, who was obviously getting irritated. “Oh, we‟re just having fun. Admit it – you guys love it when girls talk penis,” said Ridley. Chuckling, Damian took a sip of his beer and then said, “I‟ll just pretend that we‟re not having this conversation about what‟s hiding in our pants.” “Me, too,” I replied. I had to admit, however, I was now a little curious as to how big Damian‟s feet were. “I‟m sorry,” said Ridley, looking at me. “I think we‟re embarrassing Mia.” “Mia? What about me, John, and Michael?” joked Damian. “Can‟t a man have any secrets?” “Oh, they most certainly can and do,” said Ridley, smiling coldly at John. “But, they always come out in the end. I‟m sure John would agree.”

9 Damian

  It hadn‟t taken me long to put two-and-two together about John and Mia. He‟d been the one who‟d broken her heart and now, here he was, standing there with his ditzy secretary and lover. Seeing them together was obviously upsetting to Mia, which was why I‟d decided to do what I did. Wrong or right, I didn‟t care. I just somehow knew that she was having a weak moment and I hated seeing a beautiful woman like her feel unwanted. “Yes, in my line of work, I see a lot of that,” said John, glaring at Ridley. “On both sides of the coin, however.” “I‟m sure one side more than the other,” she replied, her gaze unwavering. “Probably. Anyway,” he said tightly. “I don‟t claim to be perfect myself. Hell, we all make mistakes and have to live with them.” “Yes, we do,” said Ridley. “Honey, we should go and find a place to sit,” said Tracy, staring over the ledge and down below. “I think the band is going to be starting any minute.” Billionaire at Sea “Sure,” he answered, his eyes moving back to Mia, who was desperately trying to ignore him. “To be honest, it doesn‟t look like there are any decent seats left up here,” I said, relieved that he‟d have to go below. I‟d invited him to the concert, mainly because I wanted to thank him for his help during my divorce. I‟d planned on paying his tab for the night as well. Now, I just wanted him as far away from Mia as possible. “Every one of them appears to be taken. Sorry, John.” “It‟s okay,” he answered, still staring at Mia like he wanted to pick her up and run off with her. I tightened my hold on her, feeling suddenly possessive. “It was good seeing you,” I said, noticing Mia stiffen up under my arm. “You, too,” he replied. I raised my drink. “Your tab is on me, by the way. Just give them my name when you order your cocktails.” “Thanks,” said Tracy, emptying the rest of her glass. “I could use a refill. It was nice meeting all of you.” “You, too,” said Ridley. “I‟m sorry, I didn‟t get your name?” “It‟s Tracy,” she said smiling. Ridley looked from John to her. “And you two are…?” “I guess you could say that we‟re kind of dating,” she replied. “I mean, I work for him so we don‟t like to talk about it at the office. But, none of you are 

employed by him, so I guess we‟re allowed to be open about it. Right, John?” John looked like he wanted to shrivel up and die. “I think we should get refills before the band starts playing.” “Yeah. Great idea,” said Tracy. “It was interesting meeting you,” said Ridley. “You, too,” she replied. Not noticing any animosity in the air, Tracy smiled and said her goodbyes again before taking off toward the bar. John looked at Mia. “Mia, I‟ll call you.” “Why?” she asked, looking at him coldly. He smiled. “Just to catch up. You know… like old friends?” Mia didn‟t say anything, although, something told me that if they‟d been alone, she‟d have ripped him a new asshole. The song playing in the club ended abruptly and the crowd below began to clap and howl as Kendall and her band finally made the stage. “Mia?” said John. “You really should go below and find a spot,” Mia told him in a flat voice. “Just like Damian said – there‟s absolutely nothing for you up here.” “Oh, snap,” said Ridley, amused. John‟s eye twitched. Trying to keep his composure, he turned to me. “Have a good one, Stryker.” I grabbed Mia‟s hand and slid my fingers through hers. “Thank you. I plan on it,” I said with a meaningful grin. Billionaire at Sea John‟s face turned red. He turned on his heel and stormed away. Michael chuckled. “Now that‟s worth a few toasts if you ask me.” Ridley held up her glass. “I agree. That piece of shit. I can‟t believe him. He‟s banging his secretary and yet, he‟s practically begging Mia to give him another chance? What a tool.” “That‟s an insult to tools,” I replied, removing my arm from Mia‟s shoulder. “Anyway, that jackass doesn‟t deserve you. I hope you realize that.” “Oh, I do. Now more than ever,” she said quietly. “Here‟s to new beginnings,” said Ridley, raising her glass. “To new friends. And to new adventures.” “Cheers,” we all replied, clinking our drinks together. 

10 Mia

Kendall had an amazing voice and after Ridley and I finished our second round of drinks, she talked me into hitting the dance floor. “Come with us!” Ridley said loudly to both Damian and Michael. “Sorry, I‟m not much of a dancer,” said Damian, who I noticed was still milking his second rum and Coke. “Nor am I. Plus, I really have to get going soon,” hollered Michael. “You do? I‟ll contact my driver,” said Damian, pulling out his cell phone. Frowning, he stood up. “I‟ll be right back. I need to find a quieter place.” “Michael, you‟re such a party-pooper,” exclaimed Ridley, swaying her hips to the music. “Some of us have to work,” he replied. “You two get out there and have some fun.” “Yeah, let‟s do it.” Ridley grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the chair. Feeling a little tipsy from the alcohol, I steadied myself, and then turned to Michael to give him a hug. “It was nice seeing you again.” Billionaire at Sea “You too, love. Have fun tonight. You deserve it more than anyone,” he said. “Thank you.” I planted a kiss on his cheek. “Say „hello‟ to Alex for me.” “I will.” Ridley gave her brother a hug and then we headed downstairs to the dance floor, which was very crowded. She pulled me through the swarm of people until we were close to the stage and then we both started dancing. “She‟s awesome!” hollered Ridley, as we stared at Damian‟s cousin on the stage. She was tall and beautiful, with long jet-black hair and dark eyes. “I hope we get to meet her afterward!” “Me too!” I replied loudly, admiring her skin-tight purple leather outfit that reminded me of Catwoman. “What a great singer!” Kendall‟s voice was husky as she belted out the words to a song that I could almost relate to. It was a sexy ballad about leaving a man who‟d done her wrong, and how she was putting her life back together. The song hit so close to home that it brought tears to my eyes. Then, before I could make a fool out of myself by crying, it ended and another one began. Fortunately, this time she sang something upbeat and fun. Ridley, who was clearly enjoying herself, grabbed my hand and we began dancing together, catching the attention of two guys. Noticing their interest, Ridley smirked and danced sexier, as usual enjoying the effect she had on men. Eventually, the two sidled up closer and began moving to the music, with us. Admittedly, I 

thought they were both good looking, so when one of them, wrapped his arms around my waist and began dancing with me, I didn‟t exactly protest. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Ridley do the same thing until her partner tried kissing her. She pushed him away and began dancing on her own again. “What‟s your name?” asked the guy I was with. “Mia,” I replied, aware that his hands were almost touching my butt. “I‟m Luke,” he said, pulling me closer. “You‟re a fantastic dancer.” “Thanks,” I answered, smiling up at him goofily. I knew I was buzzed because when he ran his hand over my hips, I didn‟t stop him. “What‟s up?” Luke said suddenly, looking over my shoulder. “I‟m going to have to cut in,” said a stern voice. I turned around and found Damian standing there. I smiled. “Oh… hey! You changed your mind about dancing?” “It appears that way,” he said, staring down Luke. My dance partner let go of me. “So, is this your boyfriend?” “If I was, you‟d be in some serious trouble,” said Damian, grabbing my hand. Confused, Luke mumbled something and walked away. Damian relaxed and pulled me into his arms as a slow song began to play. “I thought you didn‟t dance,” I said, looking up at him. Billionaire at Sea “I don‟t, but I‟m supposed to be your date,” said Damian. “Not the guy who had his hands all over you a second ago.” I blushed. “He didn‟t.” “The hell he didn‟t,” said Damian, looking more amused than anything. “That guy was really pissing me off.” I raised my eyebrow. “He was?” “Yeah.” Damian looked over my head. “Speaking of assholes, John‟s watching us.” “I wish he‟d just leave,” I muttered. “Me, too. Something tells me he‟s not giving up on you anytime soon.” “Fuck him.” Damian smirked. “Such language.” “He brings it out in me.” “You know, I think we‟d better remind him who you‟re here with tonight,” he replied, pulling me so close that I could feel his breath on my neck. “Why did you lie to him?” I whispered, enjoying the way our bodies fit together. “Remember how I thought we‟d met before?” “Yes.” “I saw a picture of you on his desk a few months back,” he replied, his lips brushing against my neck, giving me goosebumps. “You must have a very good memory,” I said breathlessly as he slowly kissed the side of my neck. I closed my eyes, enjoying the way it felt. It had been so long since anyone had touched me, and even though it was for show, I didn‟t want him to stop

“Only when it comes to beauty,” he said in a husky voice.

11 Damian

 Mia stiffened up. “I‟m not trying to come on to you. I‟m just stating a fact.” I knew that what I‟d said sounded like a line but it was the truth. She was unforgettable. The first time I‟d stepped into John‟s office, I‟d noticed the young, beautiful woman in the photo right away. It just hadn‟t clicked until tonight. “You‟ve got to be the most beautiful woman in this club,” I whispered, knowing that I shouldn‟t be flirting with her but unable to help myself. Mia was intriguing and seeing her dance with another man had irritated the hell out of me. “What am I supposed to say to that?” she said, a smile in her voice. “You don‟t have to say anything.” Something caught my eye. I looked over and noticed John, dancing with his bimbo secretary. They moved closer to us. “Looks like someone else was trying to move in on your date,” said John, smirking. “I can hardly blame him. She‟s the most beautiful woman in the club,” I replied. Billionaire at Sea John looked at Mia and I knew he agreed. She looked up at me and smiled. “He didn‟t have a chance, though. Not when I‟m already with the best looking guy in Florida.” I knew she was saying it for John‟s benefit, but the game was fun. Knowing that a comment like that deserved a kiss, especially if we really were a couple, I played my part. Pulling her to me, I began kissing her.

12 Mia

 I don‟t know what surprised me more… the fact that he was kissing me or the fact that he was so damn good at it that I didn‟t want it to end. Just when I started really getting into it, however, Damian pulled away and began dancing me toward the other side of the stage, away from John. “Sorry about that.” He gave me a little smile. “Thanks for not smacking me, by the way.” “No problem,” I said, my head still spinning from the kiss. “I probably took things a little too far,” Damian looked over my head, “but I really wanted to piss him off.” “Did we?” His eyes met mine again. “I imagine so. I was too busy to notice.” Feeling a little awkward after what had just happened, I looked around the dance floor. “Do you know where Ridley is?” I asked him. “I think she went upstairs again.” “Okay. I should probably check on her.” Billionaire at Sea “Let‟s go,” he said, grabbing my hand. He led me through the dance floor and back to the VIP section, where Ridley was seated. She had her phone out and was texting someone. “Hey, guys,” she said, a funny smile on her face. “Have fun dancing?” “We had more fun pissing off John,” I said quickly. “I‟m sure you did,” she replied. “Can I get you a drink?” asked Damian, looking at me. “I think I could use one.” “Can you get me a water?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied. “Ridley?” “I‟m good.” “Okay,” he said and then walked away. I sat down next to her. “Let me guess, you saw us kissing?” “Saw you? I‟m pretty sure the entire club noticed you two making out on the dance floor,” she answered, looking amused. “It was an act,” I said. “Obviously.” “Right.” “It was.” “Then you should get into acting because you‟re very good. So is he.” I glanced over toward the bar. Damian was already ordering. “I admit it. He‟s better than good.” Ridley laughed. “Are you going to go home with him tonight?” My head whipped around. “What? No. Of course not.” “Why not? You both want each other. It‟s obvious.”

I knew I couldn‟t lie to Ridley. She knew me better than anyone. I was definitely attracted to the man. “It doesn‟t matter. I‟m not about to jeopardize our working relationship.” “Something tells me that if you sleep with him, you‟re going to secure it. Not jeopardize it.” “I‟m not taking any chances,” I murmured as Damian approached us. “I hate to cut the evening short, but it looks like I need to leave,” said Ridley, reading another text. I stared at her in shock. “What? You‟re the one who said we were both staying until close.” “I know. Adam is being a buzzkill, though. He wants me home,” she replied. “Is he playing the jealous boyfriend again?” I asked her. I knew Adam had gotten mad once about her attending a bachelorette party. They‟d had a big argument about it. She‟d ended up going, but he‟d given her the silent treatment for a few days afterward. “Yeah,” said Ridley. “Which is stupid, especially since he‟s a big fan of yours, Damian. I think he‟s just angry that I didn‟t invite him before he planned his poker party.” “You certainly could have,” said Damian. “Hell, if he wants to join us now, I could send my driver to pick him up.” “Thank you for offering. Like I said, he had his poker buddies over, though. I didn‟t think he‟d want to cut the game short. I guess I was wrong to assume anything about Adam,” said Ridley dryly. “Do you want me to talk to him?” asked Damian. Billionaire at Sea “No. That‟s okay,” replied Ridley. “He‟s been drinking and will probably be passed out by the time I get home. I‟m sure he‟ll feel differently tomorrow. Probably even foolish for getting jealous. Anyway, I should probably get going.” “I‟ll send a message to my driver,” said Damian, typing on his phone. “I‟m sure he‟s back from dropping off Michael.” “Thank you,” she said. “I‟ve had a lovely night. Thanks so much for inviting us.” “You‟re more than welcome. I was hoping you could stay and meet Kendall,” he said. “I know. I would have loved to. She has an amazing voice,” said Ridley. “She does,” I agreed. “You must be very proud of your cousin.” “I am. You‟ll stick around and meet her, won‟t you?” he asked me. It was almost midnight. “Actually, I should probably leave, too,” I replied. “No. Stay,” said Ridley quickly. “You‟re having fun.” “I know but… I‟m really tired,” I answered, truthfully. The dinner. The cocktails. Running into John. And of course the steamy encounter on the dance floor. I was both physically and emotionally drained. “Are you sure?” asked Damian. “I bet Kendall would like to meet the woman I was making out with on the dance floor. You should have seen the look she gave me from the stage.” Blushing, I laughed. “I could only imagine.” 

“Speaking of expressions, you should have seen John‟s face when you two were kissing. It was priceless,” said Ridley. Damian smiled. “I‟m sure he regrets what he‟s lost. You‟re too good for the likes of him anyway.” I smiled. “I‟ve been telling her that for months,” said Ridley, as her cell phone began to vibrate again. Looking at it, she sighed. “It‟s Adam again.” “Tell him you‟ll be on your way very soon,” said Damian, looking down at his phone. “My driver has informed me that he‟s just around the corner.” “Okay,” she said, texting Adam. Damian turned to me. “Are you sure you can‟t stay for just a little bit longer? I‟ll introduce you to Kendall and then we can leave together.” Leave together? That sounded like trouble. “I hate to be rude, but I really can‟t. I‟m just plain exhausted,” I told him. “You‟re not being rude and I totally understand,” he said, still looking disappointed. “Thank you for everything. It‟s certainly been an interesting night,” I told him. “Yes, it has,” he replied with a little smile. Still looking at her phone, Ridley stood up. “Are you ready, Mia?” “Yes.” Damian got up. “I‟ll walk you both out.” “Thanks,” she answered. Billionaire at Sea We made our way out of the VIP room and headed downstairs. “Are you okay?” I asked Ridley in a low voice, hating how her boyfriend had put such a damper on the night. She nodded and smiled. “I‟m fine. Adam is just being… Adam.” “Why is he so jealous? You‟ve never given him cause to worry,” I said. “I know. It‟s frustrating. I can‟t seem to go anywhere lately without him questioning it,” she replied. I had always liked her boyfriend, but this side of him was troubling. As we stepped out of the building, Damian‟s limo pulled up to the front door. The driver got out and started walking around toward us. “It‟s okay,” said Damian, motioning for him to get back inside. “I‟ve got this.” The driver nodded and returned to the car. Ridley gave Damian a quick hug goodbye and then crawled into the vehicle. “I‟ll call you when we have some ideas about the menu,” she called out. “Sounds good,” he answered and then looked at me. “Thanks for everything,” I said, feeling suddenly anxious. “Especially that thing with John.” Damian smiled. “Now thatwas my pleasure.” I chuckled. “Well, goodnight.” I held out my hand. “A handshake? Sorry, but I don‟t think that‟s going to fly,” he said, looking past me. “Especially with your 

ex in close proximity again. He must have followed us out.” “Oh,” I replied, lowering my hand quickly. “Act two. Are you ready?” Before his words sunk in, I was back in Damian‟s arms and he was kissing me with an intensity that made me almost reconsider the rest of my night. “Oh my,” I said breathlessly after he released me. “That act was even better than the first.” Damian gave me a funny smile. “I have a confession.” “What is that?” “John wasn‟t there.” I stared at him in surprise. “Mia?” called Ridley, from inside of the limo. “Are you going to keep making out with Damian or are you going to get a move on?” “Goodnight, Mia,” Damian said, still smiling. “Goodnight, Damian,” I said and then crawled into the limo. He leaned down, wished us both goodnight again, and then shut the door. “So, what was that all about?” she asked me as I settled in. “I really don‟t know.” Ridley smiled. “Something tells me that next week is going to be very interesting. Especially for you.” “I doubt it. Tonight was… not business. Next week is.” Billionaire at Sea “Deny it all you want, but that man wants you. If Damian Stryker gets you alone on that big ship of his, you‟re getting laid.” I opened up my mouth to protest but then I imagined us actually having sex and it gave me a secret thrill. Ridley smiled. “You know it‟s true.” I looked away. “It wouldn‟t be right,” I said, staring out the window as the limo pulled away from the curb. As much as I wanted the man, I knew it was still a bad idea. “Right or wrong… who cares? You‟re both single and obviously attracted to each other. Then there‟s the fact that he‟s handsome and filthy rich.” “I don‟t care about that,” I replied truthfully. John hadn‟t been rich, at least not compared to Damian, but he‟d been well off and certainly handsome. He‟d showered me with gifts and admittedly, it had been nice at the time. But, as far as I was concerned, a good-looking man with boatloads of money was trouble. As attracted to Damian as I was, I wouldn‟t allow things to be taken further. “Then at least care about the size of his hands,” she said. “And his feet because if it‟s any indication of what he‟s packing…” “Would you stop already?” I said, laughing. “Damn, you have a one-track mind.” “Someone has to keep reminding you of what you‟re missing.” “I know what I‟m missing,” I answered, my smile fading. “Believe me.”

It wasn‟t just the sex either. It was the companionship. The laughter. The flirting. The dates. More than anything, however, it was the nights we‟d spent cuddling on the sofa and watching movies together. John‟s cheating had felt more like a death to me. I‟d lost all of him and part of me and I didn‟t know if I‟d ever be the same. One thing I did know was that having sex with Damian Stryker wasn‟t the answer. Even Michael had stated that he was now a womanizer. If anything, I‟d just be another conquest to Damian, and once he had me, he‟d move on. “You know I only want what‟s best for you,” said Ridley, her eyes softening. She moved next to me. “I want to see you happy.” “I am happy and I don‟t need a man for that, especially when I have a friend like you.” “I love you, girl.” Smiling, she held out her little finger. “Let‟s make a pinkie promise.” I laughed. We hadn‟t made one since college and back then, we‟d made plenty. I held mine out. “Okay.” She wrapped hers around mine. “We‟ll always be there for each other. Through thick and thin.” “Always.” “And if we need each other, no matter the time or the place, we‟ll drop whatever we‟re doing so we can be the shoulder to cry on. Or, at the very least, the person to talk to on the other end of the phone.” We‟d already made that promise a long time ago, but it was a good reminder. “Agreed.” Ridley smiled and we squeezed or pinkies tightly together. “To us. Screw that asshole John for what he Billionaire at Sea did. Hell, screw Adam for being a jealous jerk. You will always come first. Friends before mens.” I laughed. “Friends before mens.” We let go and hugged each other. “Excuse me,” said the limo driver, who‟d rolled down the tinted glass separating us. “I hate to interrupt, but where am I going?” Ridley laughed. “Sorry,” she said and then gave him her address. “Are you sure you don‟t want to come home with me instead?” I asked, thinking about Adam and what she might have to deal with at home. The limo driver, who had been about to roll up the divider, gave us a wide-eyed look through the rearview mirror. Ridley was about to answer when she noticed him watching us. “Your place?” She grinned wickedly. “Honey, you‟d love to have me in your bed, making you scream my name, like last night, wouldn‟t you?” My cheeks turned red. She‟d done this before and got a kick out of making guys think we were lesbians. Ridley got on her knees in front of me. “What if I just did it here?” she said, making sure the limo driver was paying close attention. “I‟ll do you and then you can do me. I‟m so horny that it wouldn‟t take long for me to come.” I turned my head away, so the limo driver wouldn‟t see me holding back laughter. With a straight face, Ridley nodded toward the front of the limo. “I bet he wouldn‟t mind if we undressed and started pleasuring each other. Excuse 

me… would you mind if we had a quickie in your backseat?” The driver cleared his throat. “Uh, no. Not at all.” “I didn‟t think so,” she said, pretending that she was going to remove her dress. The limo driver‟s eyes lit up. “We‟ll need privacy, of course,” she said. With a disappointed look on his face, he rolled the darkened, glass divider back up. Smiling, Ridley sat back down in her seat. “Do you think that was wise?” I asked. “What do you mean?” “He might get into an accident thinking about what might be going on back here.” She giggled. “Or even worse, he might report back to Damian.” I groaned. Ridley‟s cell phone began to vibrate. She looked down at it and her smile faded. “Adam?” I asked. “Yes.” “The offer still stands. You can crash at my place.” “As much as I‟d like to right now, it would only make him angrier.” “I didn‟t realize that he had this bad of a temper,” I said, worried again. “He‟s all bark and no bite,” she replied, reading the text he‟d sent. “Believe me, I don‟t have anything to fear from Adam. Just a headache.” “You‟re sure?” Billionaire at Sea She nodded and looked up at me from her phone. “I know him and he‟d never hurt me.” I remembered saying that about John once. I was about to tell her that, but then changed my mind. John and Adam were nothing alike. 

13 Mia

 My doorbell rang. Groaning, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. It was seven-thirty a.m. “Dammit,” I muttered, as the doorbell rang again. I got out of bed, grabbed a robe, and hurried to the front door. When I opened it and saw Ridley standing there with a suitcase, I gasped. “Hi,” she said, trying to smile. “Oh, my God, did Adam hit you?” I asked, staring at her face. Her left eye was black and blue and her lip was swollen. It had to hurt. My own eyes filled with tears. She smiled weakly. “You should see his face.” “That asshole,” I snapped, pulling her into my townhouse. “Did you call the police?” “No,” she replied, setting her suitcase down on the floor. “I‟m not going to.” “Why not?” I asked, shocked. “Like I said, you should see his face. I actually hit him first.” I pulled her into my arms and hugged her. “I‟m sure he deserved it. You don‟t deserve this, though. What happened?” Billionaire at Sea My brave, strong friend broke down. “He accused me of having sex with Damian and started calling me names. I slapped him and then he punched me in the face.” “Oh, Ridley,” I said, now crying with her. “I‟m so sorry this happened to you.” “I just can‟t believe he did this to me. I have never cheated on him or gave him reason to believe that I would. I suppose it was because he was drunk.” “Drunk or not,” I said sternly, “what he did was horrible and wrong. Don‟t make excuses for him.” She nodded. “I know.” “When did this happen?” “When I got home, last night.” “Why didn‟t you call me?” “I was going to but then he took my phone and started going through it, looking for who knows what. Anyway, I locked myself in the guestroom and eventually we both fell asleep.” “How many times did he hit you?” “He punched me the one time and when I tried kicking him out, he slapped my face.” That bastard. I clenched my teeth. “Where is he?” “Back at home. Probably still passed out in bed.” She smiled grimly. “He‟s going to be hurting. I also threw a paperweight at him. His cheekbone is going to be killing him today.” “Good.” She let out a ragged sigh. “What am I going to do?” “You‟re going to leave the asshole.”

“He‟s never been violent before. I‟m sure it was the alcohol.” “He‟s never been violent but he‟s always been jealous, even without drinking. You can‟t stay with him, Ridley. Don‟t even think about it.” “I love him.” “I know you do.” She didn‟t say anything else. Just stared at the wall, her thoughts miles away. “Why don‟t you go and get some rest?” I told her. “You can stay in my guestroom. Hell, you can move in with me permanently if you‟d like.” “Thank you,” she said, swiping at her tears. “I‟ll go into the kitchen and get you some ice for your bruises.” I looked at her eye. “Are you sure you don‟t want to call the police?” “No. I just want everything to go away,” she replied bitterly. “I don‟t want to involve the cops.” I touched her shoulder. “That‟s fine, but remember, you don‟t owe Adam anything and you certainly don‟t have to give him another chance, especially now that it‟s turned physical.” “I know. I started it, though.” I groaned. “You slapped him. It may have not been the right thing to do, but it didn‟t warrant a closed fist to the face. There‟s quite a difference and he should have known better.” “I know.” I sighed. “You remember where the guestroom is?” “I do,” she said, picking up her suitcase. “Thank you, Mia.” Billionaire at Sea “Anytime. Remember, whenever you need me, I‟m here for you. I love you, girl.” Ridley blinked back more tears. “I love you, too.”

14 Damian

 For the next couple of days, I couldn‟t get Mia out of my head. Neither of them. It was distracting as all hell. Several times I thought about calling and asking her out, but then remembered the promise I‟d made to myself about mixing business with pleasure. It had royally fucked me over last time. “Screw it,” I said, grabbing my phone for the tenth time. “Mia is nothing like my ex.” Just as I was about to make the call, my cell began to ring. “Stryker,” I said into the phone. “Buddy,” said a familiar voice. “Long time no talk. How‟s it going?” “Ransom,” I said, smiling. “I didn‟t recognize the number.” He sighed. “I‟ve had to change it again.” “More stalker fans hounding you?” “Just one psycho that is really irritating the fuck out of me.” “Sorry to hear that, man. What‟s this person been doing?” Billionaire at Sea “I‟d rather not go into it right now. Taffy‟s around.” Taffy, AKA Tiffany, was his fiancée. Beautiful with a heart of gold and a stubbornness that matched his. “How is she doing, by the way?” I asked, picturing her long, blonde hair and lovely smile. “Great. She just completed her first album.” “Really? Good for her. I imagine it‟s incredible.” “Understatement. I wouldn‟t have thought her voice could get any better, but the singing lessons have raised everything up a notch. She totally blows my mind every time I hear her sing.” “It takes talent to know talent.” “Thanks, man.” Ransom, the guy whose bachelor party we were celebrating, was a famous rock star and television sensation, thus all of the secrecy. We‟d run into each other years ago at a Hollywood party, and had become instant friends. He spent most of his time in California, but owned another house in the Keys. When I‟d learned that he was getting married, I offered my yacht and one of the best weekends of his life. He‟d accepted, but with one condition. No prostitutes. “What about strippers?” I’d asked, knowing that some of his friends were already talking about hiring them. “Strippers are fine. I can look but made a promise that I wouldn’t touch. You can do what you want, though.” “What’s wrong, don’t trust yourself around prostitutes?” I’d ribbed. “I trust myself I just don’t want them around. Besides, with my luck, the media would catch wind and tell everyone 

that I’m fucking around on Taffy. She doesn’t need that kind of publicity.” “I hear you.” One thing about Ransom was that he was passionate about protecting Tiffany. He‟d even tried getting her thrown off of a national television singing contest once because he thought it would ruin her life. Fortunately, things worked out for the best and Tiffany not only forgave Ransom, but agreed to marry the bullheaded watchdog. They were a great couple, though, and had been engaged for the last year. If anyone could make a marriage work, it was those two. “So, we‟re all set for next week,” I told him. “You excited?” “Hell yeah. When do we set sail?” “I‟d like to leave Friday afternoon but you can climb on board anytime you want. I‟m going to be staying on the yacht for most of the week myself. So feel free to arrive early, if you can.” I‟d also invited Mia and Ridley to board a couple days before we set sail, so they could familiarize themselves with the ship. That‟s what I‟d told myself, at least. Deep down I knew the real reason was that I wanted to see more of Mia. “I wish I could but I‟m busy. I‟ll be there on Friday, though, along with some of the guests, including my band members. They‟re excited about the trip.” “It should be a blast.” “Hell yeah and I can‟t thank you enough.” “No problem.” Billionaire at Sea “Anyway, I wanted to check in with you quickly. I have to get off the phone now,” he said, sounding amused. “Taffy is waiting for me. She‟s giving me the evil eye.” “Then I‟d better let you go. Give her my best.” “I will. See you next Friday.” “Looking forward to it.” We both hung up. I stared down at my phone and then put it away. I decided to wait until next week to figure things out with Mia. The last thing I needed was for her to turn me down if I asked her out. Even worse, she might decide to cancel the catering job next week, then I‟d be scrambling to find someone else. Patience wasn‟t always a strong-point for me, but I knew that with a woman like Mia, I had to dig deep and find some. 

15 Mia

 After the Adam episode, Ridley moved in with me and a couple days later, I drove her back to pick up more things while he was at work. She did speak to him several times on the phone and just as expected, he begged for her forgiveness. He even tried talking her into returning home. I almost thought she was going to go back to him, until the green-eyed monster made another appearance. “I‟ve had it,” she said, setting her purse down on the counter. “He‟s being a jerk again about Damian. In fact, this time… he actually had the audacity to try and make me cancel our catering job.” Ridley and Adam had met for lunch to try and work things out. I was almost relieved to hear that he was being difficult. I certainly didn‟t want her going back to him. “Really? What did you say?” Even I knew that wasn‟t an option, and if it was… I‟d slap her silly. Especially after the way she hounded me about taking the job. “I told him „absolutely not‟ and that he needed psychiatric help for his jealousy problem.” I relaxed. “I bet he didn‟t like that.” Billionaire at Sea “No, but I made sure he knew that there was no way I would take him back, unless he quit drinking and saw a therapist.” “Good for you. What was his response?” She sighed. “He told me that I was overreacting.” “You were overreacting? You?” “I know… right?” she said, leaning back against the counter, looking suddenly very tired and miserable. “I‟m sorry,” I said, moving next to her. “What are you going to do?” She grunted. “What can I do?” “Stay here with me, as long as you want, and in the meantime, don‟t let him coerce you back without meeting your demands,” I said. “Which, I know is going to be hard to do, considering you still love him.” Ridley nodded. “But, you can‟t give in. I mean it, Ridley,” I said. “There was absolutely no reason for him to get jealous or violent. If he did it once, it will be easier for him to do it again.” “I know,” she said softly. I grabbed her hand. “As much as you love him, you‟d be doing the both of you more harm than good if you take him back without him getting help. If he really, really loves you, he‟ll give in. If he doesn‟t, then you‟re better off without him. Your future children will be better off without him.” She let out a ragged sigh. “I realize that.”

“Let‟s just try and focus on next week. We‟ll be in Caribbean, on a luxurious yacht, having fun and making a ton of dough.” Ridley smiled. “It‟s kind of funny how our roles have reversed. The other day I was saying the same thing to you.” “I know. You made me see the light and just like you stated, it‟s going to change our lives. For the better.” She nodded in agreement but I knew Ridley was the one who was now second-guessing everything. I was still a little anxious about the catering job myself, but deep down, I knew that this was the best thing for her and me. She needed to get away from Adam to clear her head and I needed to put John and the past behind me. 

16 Mia

 Ridley and I kept ourselves busy, planning the meals and ordering the supplies needed for the bachelor party. Damian was good on his word and not only paid for all of it, but deposited twenty grand into our business account. “I think that‟s it,” she said, after getting off of the phone with the owner of a fresh seafood market. “Everything is ordered and now that we‟ve arranged to have our supplies delivered directly to Damian‟s yacht, we can relax.” For what seemed like the tenth time, I scanned the menus and the grocery listings, to make sure we hadn‟t forgotten anything. As far as I could tell, we hadn‟t missed an item. “I think you‟re right. The only thing left to do is pack.” “Speaking of which,” she grinned. “I think we should treat ourselves. Let‟s go shopping for some new clothing. Something we can wear when we‟re not stuck in the kitchen.” As much as I would have liked to have gone on a shopping spree myself, I knew we had important bills Billionaire at Sea to attend to first. “Did you send a check to pay for the van?” “We‟re caught up. I also put aside money for taxes. In fact,” she dug into her purse and then handed me a check. It was for just over seven thousand dollars. “This includes what I said I‟d help pay for rent.” “Damn,” I said, staring at it with a smile on my face. “I don‟t think I‟ve ever received a check for anything this high before.” “I know, right? By the way, I spoke to Damian last night and he hinted that the payment we‟ve received doesn‟t include our tip. He‟d give us that at the end of the cruise. I think you should be extra special to the man, considering he likes you.” She smiled wickedly. “Although, he might have another tip in mind for you. I wonder if it‟s circumcised?” I rolled my eyes. “Let‟s hope it is. I had one that wasn‟t one time and it was pretty… strange.” I snorted. “You‟re sick, you know that?” Ridley shrugged. “I‟m blunt. You know that. Anyway, back to shopping. When was the last time you bought yourself a new bathing suit?” “It‟s been awhile,” I admitted, picturing my white bikini. I hadn‟t tried it on in over a year. She stood up and grabbed her purse. “Let‟s deposit your check and get to it then.” Knowing that shopping was something that gave her joy, and she truly needed it, I agreed. 

Three hours and five hundred dollars later, I had several new outfits, two bathing suits, and a new pair of flip-flops. I thought it was quite the haul, especially after watching Ridley spend twice the amount and had less to show for it. When I teased her about it, she blamed her extravagant spending on her mother. “Why is it her fault?” I asked dryly as we got into my vehicle. “She was the one who introduced me to designer clothing. Anyway, almost everything I purchased was a bargain,” she said, holding up her bags. “Maybe not by your standards, but by mine.” “If that‟s what you need to tell yourself,” I teased. Her cell phone began to ring. Ridley frowned. “It‟s him again.” “Adam?” “Yeah. He just won‟t give up,” she replied, stuffing the phone back into her purse. “I think you should throw your cell phone into the ocean as soon as we get onboard the ship tomorrow.” “Believe me, the thought has already crossed my mind.” We drove back to my place and then started packing. When we were finished, Ridley pulled out a bottle of champagne. “When did you get that?” I asked. “I bought it yesterday. I wanted to have a toast before we set sail,” she said, grabbing two wine glasses from the cupboard. “Great idea. I think we both deserve it.” Billionaire at Sea “Hell, yeah we do.” I opened the bottle and poured the champagne into our glasses. Ridley picked up hers and held it in the air. “First of all, to Damian for giving us this fabulous opportunity. He could have gone with anyone else, but he‟s taking a chance on us and for that I‟m grateful.” “Me, too,” I said. “Also, let‟s not forget the man who‟s getting married. If not for him, we‟d both be up shit creek right now “ “Cheers to the bachelor for getting married. May he and his bride live happily ever after,” I said, clinking my glass against hers. We both took sips of the champagne. “Oh, wait. I have a personal toast that I‟d like to make,” I said, holding up my glass again. “May this week be the start of a better life for both of us. Especially for my very best friend, whom I‟d do anything in the world for.” “Aw…,” she said, smiling warmly at me. “Thank you, Mia. I‟m so lucky to have such a wonderful friend like you.” “Me, too. I don‟t know what I‟d do without you.” Her eyes started misting up. “Okay, I haven‟t even taken my third sip and I‟m already getting emotional. I hope I‟m not getting my period soon. I will be so pissed off if I can‟t go swimming.” I chuckled. “Yeah. The last thing we need is for you to start drawing all of the sharks in the area. We‟ll have enough to deal with on the ship as it is.”

“Exactly,” she said right as the doorbell rang. We looked at each other. “Are you expecting anyone?” she asked. It was after eight and I certainly wasn‟t. “No,” I replied, setting my glass down. “Maybe it‟s Adam?” “I hope not. If it is, tell him that I‟m not here right now.” “Okay.” I walked out of the kitchen and answered the door. Fortunately, it was Michael. “Oh good. It‟s just you,” I said, standing back so that he could come in. “You really make a guy feel special,” he said in amusement. “I‟m sorry. I just thought that you were Adam.” His smile fell. “Has he been bothering her?” “He wants to get back with her but refuses to see a therapist. Thankfully, she won‟t let him back into her life unless he does,” I said in a low voice. Michael looked relieved. “I‟m glad she‟s sticking to her guns.” “Me, too. Ridley!” I called loudly. “It‟s your brother!” She stepped into the living room and gave him a funny smile “Okay, what are you doing here?” “I was in the neighborhood and wanted to check up on you,” he replied. “Is that so shocking?” “A little,” she said, giving him a curious look. “You must be getting soft in your old age.” Billionaire at Sea “I must be because I can‟t seem to stop worrying about you,” he said, opening up his briefcase. He pulled out small brown bag. “What‟s in there,” asked Ridley. “Booze?” He chuckled. “No. I was thinking that after what happened with Adam, I think it might be a good idea for you to be carrying this around,” he said, pulling out a canister of pepper spray. “Just in case.” She took it from him. “I don‟t think I need to worry about Adam. He was inebriated when he hit me and I‟m not going to be around him when he‟s drinking anymore.” “It‟s not just Adam I‟m worried about,” he replied, reaching into the bag again. He pulled out another canister of pepper spray and this time, handed it to me. “You two are young and beautiful and should have some kind of protection. I know neither of you own handguns, or take karate, so this should be better than nothing.” “Thanks,” I replied, reading the directions. “It looks easy enough to use.” “It is. I‟ve started carrying one with me when I walk our dog, Marty,” said Michael. “The two pit bulls in our neighborhood see him as a chew-toy. One of them got loose once and I used the stuff. Now that dog doesn‟t even look at us when we walk by his house.” Marty was his Toy Poodle. “I guess it‟s a good idea,” she said. “Although, we don‟t own a dog or walk late at night.” “Maybe not, but you can bring it with you on the ship. I‟m not sure who Damian‟s inviting, but if there‟s

going to be a lot of drinking, I don‟t want you two vulnerable,” he said. “Ah. Now I get it. Is there something that you aren‟t telling us?” Ridley asked. He frowned. “What do you mean?” “Did he invite a bunch of hell-raisers?” Ridley asked. “Honestly, I still don‟t know who‟s been invited. All I know is that you‟re going to be stuck in the middle of the ocean, with a group of men, and I want you safe.” “I appreciate your concern. I‟ll definitely bring mine,” I said. “And, Ridley will have hers, too. I‟ll make sure of it.” He crumpled up the paper bag. “Good.” She looked at me. “I guess they‟ll come in handy if the boat gets overtaken by pirates.” “If that happens, pepper spray isn‟t going to save us,” I said dryly. “If you get hijacked by pirates,” said Michael. “Nothing is going to help you unless you‟re a strong swimmer and aren‟t afraid of sharks.” “Mia can‟t swim and I‟m pretty sure we‟re both afraid of sharks,” she replied. He looked at me. “You live in Florida and you can‟t swim?” “I can a little,” I said defensively. “Dog-paddle, that is.” “It doesn‟t matter,” said Ridley. “We don‟t have to worry about pirates. We don‟t have to worry about Billionaire at Sea anything other than cooking, sunscreen, and having fun. Right, Mia?” “Yes.” And…staying out of Damian’s bed, I mused inwardly. Although, the more I thought of it, the less I wanted to avoid it. 

17 Mia

 Later that evening, my phone rang. When I noticed who it was, I almost didn‟t answer it. But then curiosity got the best of me. “Hello, John,” I said into the phone coolly. “What a surprise.” “Hello, Mia,” he said softly. “What‟s up?” I asked, wanting him to get to the point. He sighed. “I thought we could talk.” “There‟s not really anything to talk about.” John was silent for a few seconds and then asked me if it was true that I was going to be on Damian‟s yacht over the weekend. “Yes.” “I heard from someone that he‟s having a bachelor party and you and Ridley are catering it?” “We are,” I admitted. “It‟s a very bad idea.” “What do you mean by that?” “Look, don‟t say anything to Damian but I‟ve heard about the parties on his yacht.” “And what is it that you‟ve heard?” I asked dryly. Billionaire at Sea “They‟re crazy. Everyone gets high and rip-roaring drunk. Damian has the money to supply anything his guests want and he gladly does it.” I rolled my eyes. It sounded like a load of crap to me. John was obviously jealous. “Forgive me if I don‟t believe you.” “I guess I didn‟t expect you to. Are you two really seeing each other?” “Yes,” I lied. “Mia, as much as I hate the thought of you seeing another man, I really do want what‟s best for you.” I didn‟t say anything. “I know that you and I will never get back together. And after what I did, I don‟t deserve a second chance. I know that now. But, Damian Stryker is not the man you think he is.” He certainly hadn‟t been either. “And what kind of man is that?” “I am not supposed to be sharing information like this, especially being his attorney, but I owe you this at the very least.” I wasn‟t sure where he was going, but I was definitely intrigued. “What are you talking about?” John lowered his voice. “His ex-wife left the marriage because of his excessive drinking and partying. Not to mention she was scared shitless of him.” “I heard it was the other way around,” I said, wondering why she‟d be frightened of him. “That‟s because he gave her a big settlement and a warning to keep her mouth shut. He‟s a dangerous 

man and hangs out with some very bad people. Ones who would go after her if she said anything.” “But, he has custody of their son,” I replied, having a hard time believing John‟s story. “Yes. That was part of the deal. The judge was paid off as well.” I didn‟t say anything. “Mia?” “You‟re lying,” I said flatly. “I wish I was. But, I‟m not as good of a liar as he is. Obviously, he already has you wrapped around his finger.” “This story of yours is insane.” “No. He’s insane. Let me tell you something else. You must have heard that he‟s not pitching anymore, right?” “Yes.” “I bet you didn‟t hear how he hurt his shoulder.” “No,” I admitted. “He became drunk one night and damaged his entire career in a car accident. Of course, they kept it out of the news. But, it happened. Believe me.” I frowned. “Mia, the man is out of control and I noticed he was drinking again at the club. Alcohol and Stryker are a very bad combination.” As much as I wanted to believe that John was lying, I was starting to have my doubts. “Did you help him take his son away from his mother?” “I did what he paid me to do, and to tell you the truth, I was afraid not to.” Billionaire at Sea Now I was starting to get a little nervous. His story was compelling. “John, I swear to God, if you‟re lying to me–” “I‟m not. As much as you hate me, Mia, I still care about you and don‟t want to see you get hurt.” “Why should I believe you?” “I know you don‟t have any reason to, but if you go on this trip, something tells me that you‟re going to regret it for the rest of your life.” My mind was reeling. I really didn‟t know what to believe. “I bet you have no idea of who all is going to be boarding the ship. Do you?” he asked. “Celebrities. Famous people.” “More likely „infamous‟ people. He hangs around criminals, Mia. Very rich ones who you don‟t want to cross paths with. Have you ever heard of Thomas Gambini?” “No,” I replied. “He‟s mafia and a close associate of Damian‟s.” My eyes widened. “Mafia? They‟re still around?” “Oh, hell yes. Look, I can‟t say anything more other than that you need to cut ties with Damian immediately. Both personal and business.” “I don‟t see how I can.” “Mia, you‟re making a mistake,” he said, sounding frustrated. “If what you‟re saying is true, I‟d rather not have any dealings with him. But, right now we have no choice.” I then told him that we‟d already spent much of the money Damian had given us.

He sighed heavily. “How were we supposed to know?” I asked defensively. “You wouldn‟t have known. In fact, nobody knows about his private dealings except for those closest to him. And me, his lawyer. Shit, my other phone is ringing and I have to take this call. Mia, I don‟t know what else I can say to convince you not to board that ship this weekend.” “As I said before, I don‟t think we have any other choice.” “Just… promise me that you‟ll try to get out of it and whatever you do, don‟t tell anyone that I told you this. Not even Ridley. If Stryker ever found out, he‟d probably send someone to kill me. No joke.” My eyes widened in horror. “What?” “Like I said, he‟s dangerous and I know more than anyone that he will do anything to keep his private dealings… private.” *** After hanging up with John, I contemplated about keeping our conversation a secret, but knew there was no way that I could hold it from Ridley. If what he said was true, then it was possible we‟d be at sea with some very seedy characters. “I‟m sorry, but that‟s got to be the stupidest thing I‟ve ever heard,” she said, staring at me in disbelief. Billionaire at Sea “I thought that at first, too, but John was very serious about the matter.” “Think about it – John is jealous of Damian. He‟s making all of this up. Look, I‟ll call my brother and ask him if any of this is true,” she said, grabbing her phone. “He said not to tell anyone,” I replied quickly. “Michael won‟t say anything if I ask him not to.” I sighed. “Okay.” Ridley called him and he agreed with her that John was making all of it up. “I have never known Damian to be associated with criminals,” he told me over the phone. “And think of it this way – if he was involved with them, the media would have gotten wind of it a long time ago.” That made sense. I sighed in relief. “I imagine so. John just sounded so convincing,” I told him. “He‟s the one you need to watch out for,” replied Michael. “Ignore him and change your phone number.” “Good advice,” I replied, wishing that John would just fall off the face of the earth. He was definitely not the man I thought I‟d fallen in love with. Thankfully, he was out of my life and I vowed to avoid him in the future at all costs.

18 Mia

 The following day, Damian sent his limo to pick us up and deliver us to his yacht. “My God,” said Ridley under her breath as we headed down the dock toward the massive luxury boat. “I can‟t even imagine the amount of the check used to pay for that thing.” “It‟s beautiful,” I replied, stunned at the sheer size of the vessel. It had to be well over three hundred feet long. “Michael said it was one of the top twenty largest yachts in the world,” said Ridley. “I think he said it was around one hundred and twenty meters and could hold up to fifty guests. That‟s not even including the crew. Isn‟t that insane?” “Yes. It‟s crazy.” The driver, who was helping us with our bags, spoke up. “They featured this ship on television about a year ago. It‟s definitely one of the largest yachts in the world. There‟s even a helipad on it.” Billionaire at Sea “Yes, but is there a pool?” asked Ridley. “That‟s all I really need to know.” “There‟s both a pool and a spa,” he replied. As we drew closer, I noticed Damian standing on board and watching us. He waved and we waved back. “And you tried talking us out of this,” murmured Ridley. “Not just me. John. And Adam, too,” I reminded her. She snorted. “Another reason to leave them both in the past.” I nodded. “I swear, if you don‟t snatch this guy up, you‟re crazy,” she whispered. “Look at the way he‟s looking at you.” My cheeks burned. Damian was indeed staring at me rather intently, but it didn‟t mean he was available to be snatched up. “Stop.” She laughed. Damian‟s crew took our bags and then helped us board the yacht. “Welcome, ladies,” he said, walking toward us. Unlike the other night, he was dressed very casually in cargo shorts and a light blue tank top that not only showed off his tan, but broad shoulders and sinewy biceps. “Thank you for having us,” I replied, my stomach full of butterflies. “Damian, your boat is beyond words. It‟s simply gorgeous,” said Ridley.

“Thank you,” he answered, removing his sunglasses. “I‟ll give you a tour after my staff shows you to your rooms. I need to make a few calls and then I‟ll come find you.” “Sounds great,” I replied. “Follow me, ladies,” said Marshall, one of the crew members who‟d met us on the dock. “I‟ll show you where your cabins are.” “Lead the way,” Ridley said. “See you soon,” said Damian before heading in the opposite direction. We followed Marshall to our rooms, which were across from each other. When I stepped inside my cabin, which was decorated in light beige and pale blue colors, I was instantly captivated by how elegant it was. From the beautifully handcrafted woodwork, to the cream-colored plush carpeting, it was obviously more luxurious than some of the nicest five-star hotel rooms. “Wow,” I said, looking around. “This is gorgeous.” “Where would you like me to set your bags?” asked one of the other crew members, Aaron. “Anywhere is fine, thank you,” I replied, still looking around in awe. The cabin had a mini-bar, a large television, a walk-in closet, and a plush chaise lounge. Then there was the king-sized bed, which faced a large set of windows overlooking the ocean. “So, what do you think?” asked Marshall, stepping into the room. “It‟s wonderful,” I told him. Billionaire at Sea “Good. Damian will be happy to hear that it has met your approval. By the way, the bathroom is stocked with towels, soap, shampoo… almost everything you might need, in case you‟ve left something at home. But, if there‟s something we‟ve missed, don‟t hesitate to ask.” “I can‟t imagine needing anything more than this,” I said, smiling at him. “Thank you.” “No problem. Damian has very good taste,” he said, glancing around the cabin. “And just so you know, yours and Ms. Blake‟s are the nicest cabins on board, besides the master suite, of course.” “That was nice of him,” I said as Ridley walked in. “It sure was.” She looked at Marshall. “By the way, call me Ridley. We‟re all working for Damian. I think we can forgo the formalities.” Marshall grinned. “No problem. And feel free to call me whatever you want. Hell, everyone else does,” he joked and then winked at Ridley. “Or whenever you want.” I bit back a smile. Ridley smirked. “Thanks. We‟ll keep that in mind.” “I‟m really looking forward to tasting your cooking,” Marshall said, walking toward the doorway. He looked back. “I have a feeling it‟s going to be the best we‟ve had on the ship so far.” “No pressure there,” I said, chuckling. “Has he hired a lot of chefs?” she asked. “There was one he was using quite frequently,” he answered, turning around. “He ended up firing her.” Ridley‟s eyebrows shot up. “Why?” 

He took a few seconds to answer. “Rumor has it that she stole from the ship.” “Wow. Did he have her arrested?” I asked. “Damian was going to press charges but she overdosed on drugs, a week after he fired her.” Ridley and I stared at him in shock. He went on. “We found out later that she was heavily into narcotics. We had no idea.” “That‟s horrible,” I said. “Did she commit suicide or was it by accident?” “I don‟t know,” he said. “I believe it was an accident but who‟s to say.” Marshall lowered his voice again. “We think she was stealing from the ship to pay for her drug habit. She was paid very well, but apparently, not enough.” “I can‟t believe we didn‟t see anything about it on the news,” said Ridley. “I guess overdoses aren‟t newsworthy,” he answered. “Anyway, enough about that. Damian should be arriving soon to show you around the ship.” “Thanks, Marshall,” said Ridley. “Yes. Thank you,” I said. “You‟re welcome and remember, I‟m just a phone call away if you need anything,” he said, his eyes resting on Ridley again. “Okay,” she said. When he was gone, I started giving her crap about him just to pay her back about Damian. “Wow, he really likes you. Did you hear him?” I lowered my voice. “„Call me whenever you want‟. Talk about straightforward. Kind of sounds familiar.” Billionaire at Sea She chuckled. “Maybe so, but I can‟t even think about another man right now. I don‟t know what I‟m going to do about Adam. I still have feelings for him. I can‟t just… turn them off.” “I‟m going to give you the same advice you‟ve been giving me – forget about the jerk. If he‟s not willing to change, then he‟s definitely not worth your time. At least forget him while we‟re here.” “I don‟t think that will be too difficult,” she said, admiring the view of the ocean from my room. “How‟s your room?” I asked. “The same, basically. Come on. I‟ll show you.” I followed Ridley into her cabin and it was just as extravagant. We both had all the amenities imaginable, including a bidet and whirlpool tub in the bathroom. “Have you ever used one of these?” she asked, examining the bidet. “No. They scare me,” I joked. She chuckled. “Oh, my God, this one has its own air-dryer.” “Wow. Even your lady-parts get pampered on this ship,” I said, smirking. “I have a feeling yours might even get a massage if you play your cards right.” Groaning, I pushed her out of the bathroom just as someone began knocking on the door. It was Damian. “So, what do you think?” he asked us, grinning. “I think you‟re going to have a hard time getting us to leave when this trip is over,” Ridley said. “The rooms are stunning.”

“I‟m glad you approve. Wait until you see the rest of the ship,” he replied. “We‟re excited to see it,” I said, as we stepped out of the cabin. “How long have you owned the yacht?” “A little less than two years,” he answered. “Did you buy it new?” Ridley asked. “No. It‟s only six years old, though,” Damian said. “Has your son been on it much?” I asked. “Several times. He actually prefers our fishing boat,” replied Damian, “which is much smaller and usually it‟s just the two of us on it.” “Oh, how sweet. Do you take your son fishing quite a bit?” asked Ridley. “As much as I can. It‟s been about a month since we‟ve last gone,” he replied. “I plan on remedying that very soon, though.” “Where is he right now?” I asked. “At home. Kendall is staying with him, as is his nanny, Alice,” he replied. “Your cousin? The singer?” Ridley replied. “Yes. She is staying there over the weekend and then on Monday, she‟s going to join us on the ship. After the guys are gone, of course,” he replied. “Oh, cool. Then we get to meet both of them,” I said, smiling. “Yes. It should be a good time. Like I said, you‟re both welcome to stay with us next week, too. I hope you‟re planning on it,” he said over his shoulder as we left the cabin. “We are, as long as it‟s not a bother,” I replied. Billionaire at Sea “Hell, no,” he answered. “And you don‟t have to cook, unless you feel compelled to. I figured next week we‟ll just mostly grill and take turns with the meals.” “You can cook?” asked Ridley, smiling. He grinned. “Don‟t get your hopes up too high. Yes, I can grill a mean steak and I‟m pretty good at flipping patties. That‟s about the extent of my culinary skills, however.” We both laughed. “Don‟t worry. Mia and I will take care of most of the cooking next week. It‟s the least we can do after everything you‟ve done for us,” replied Ridley. “Don‟t feel obligated,” he said. “I really want you to enjoy yourselves.” “Then allow us to cook,” I answered. “Because, honestly, the kitchen is where I enjoy myself the most.”



 Now that was something I wanted to remedy. A much more enjoyable place for a woman should always be the bedroom. “That‟s only because she hasn‟t had anything cooking in the bedroom for so long,” joked Ridley, who must have been reading my mind. Mia gave her a dirty look. “Please ignore her. Apparently, Ridley has forgotten how deep the ocean can get and how easily one could fall overboard.” Ridley chuckled. Smiling myself, I gave them a tour of the yacht, starting at the main salon, which was where most of the guests usually hung out in the evening. There were several sofas, including two sectionals, a grand piano, a fully stocked bar, and three recently added poker tables. “This is beautiful,” said Mia, running her hand over the mahogany entertainment center. “Thank you,” I said, thinking the same thing about her. She had on a white and blue sundress, which showed off her slender figure and long legs. My palms began to itch as I imagined unzipping the back of her dress and letting it drop to the floor. Billionaire at Sea “You seem to have very good taste,” said Ridley, staring at me with a smirk. She nodded toward Mia, who wasn‟t paying attention. I smiled. “You‟re very observant.” “Yes, I am,” she replied. I chuckled. “What was that?” asked Mia, turning around. “We were talking about the piano,” Ridley said, touching the keys. “I told him he had very good taste.” “Do you play, Damian?” asked Mia. “A little,” I replied. “Please. Play something for us,” said Ridley. “Yes, please. We‟d love it. Play whatever you want,” said Mia, her face brightening. “Okay. It‟s been a while, but I‟ll give it a shot.” I sat down and began playing one of my favorite pieces, Moonlight Sonata, by Beethoven.

20 Mia

 I didn‟t recognize the song but was totally enthralled as he played it for us. It was such a beautifully haunting piece; it took my breath away. Ridley and I looked at each. “Wow,” she mouthed. I nodded. We watched in stunned silence as his fingers danced over the keys like it was second-nature; he played with such passion and skill that it literally gave me the chills. After a few minutes, Damian stopped. “Sorry,” he said, turning to us with a crooked smile. “I sometimes get a little caught up in that song.” I cleared my throat. “It was beautiful. I could listen to you play for hours.” “Thank you,” he said softly. “I used to play it for hours. I suppose that‟s why it all came back to me so easily.” “It gave me goosebumps,” said Ridley, holding out her arm. “It‟s obvious that besides being a great baseball player, you‟re musically talented. It must run in the family.” Billionaire at Sea “That‟s very kind of you. To be honest, I‟m better at playing other people‟s music. Unlike my cousin, who creates her own,” he said. “Have you ever tried writing anything?” I asked. “Once, when I was first learning to play the piano,” he admitted. “Unfortunately, I don‟t know what happened to it.” “How old were you when you started playing?” asked Ridley. “Six. My grandfather used to play and I wanted to be like him. He started giving me lessons and then eventually, they hired a piano teacher for me,” he said. “I always wanted to learn how to play,” I said. “You should take lessons,” he suggested. I laughed. “No. I‟m too old.” His eyes widened. “Too old? Nonsense. Anyone can learn how to play. You just have to have patience and a willingness to keep practicing.” “He‟s right. My mother learned how to play when she was thirty,” said Ridley. “I don‟t have a piano,” I said. “And I‟m certainly not going to buy one just to take lessons.” “You just need a keyboard,” he said. “Look, if you‟d like… I can give you a few lessons while you‟re on the ship.” I laughed nervously. “Thank you. That‟s very kind, but you don‟t have to.” “It‟s not a problem at all,” he said quickly. “I can show you some basic things and then you can decide if it‟s something you want to pursue on your own.”

“You should do it,” said Ridley. “You know you want to.” She was right. After listening to him play, it had brought back memories of when I was younger and had begged my mother to let me take piano lessons. Unfortunately, back then she didn‟t have the extra money and so it never happened. I smiled. “Okay. If you‟re up for it and don‟t mind…” “Of course I don‟t mind. We can start later this evening, after dinner, if you‟d like,” he said. “Just a quick half-hour lesson.” “Sounds good,” I replied, looking forward to it. I knew I‟d probably never be as good as Damian, but the thought of being able to play a few simple songs was thrilling. “Great.” He stood up. “In the meantime, let me show you the rest of the ship before the sun goes down. Afterward, you can relax at the pool before dinner, if you‟d like.” “Hell, yeah. Count me in,” said Ridley, perking up. For the next hour, Damian showed us much more of the yacht and both of us were thoroughly impressed. Not only did it have a theater and game room, but there was a gym, a sauna, and of course, the pool. “I could get used to this,” said Ridley, taking her shoe off. She dipped her toes into the water. “You‟ll know where to find me when I‟m not in the kitchen.” “Do you swim much?” I asked Damian “A little. Mostly to cool down,” he replied. “When I was in high school, I joined the swim team for a couple Billionaire at Sea of years. I eventually had to quit because it interfered with baseball.” “That‟s too bad,” I replied. He shrugged. “Eh… to be honest, I‟d rather relax in the water these days anyway.” “Maybe Damian would like to give you swimming lessons, too?” said Ridley with a smirk. He looked at me. “Of course.” “I think one type of lesson will be enough,” I said, giving her a warning look. “I‟d hate to monopolize all of Damian‟s time.” “Believe me, there will be plenty of time next week,” he said, a twinkle in his eyes. “So, if you‟d like lessons on anything that I‟m familiar with, just ask.” “That‟s very kind of you,” I said. “As I said, I think the piano lesson will be quite enough.” “Feel free to change your mind,” he replied. “I‟m sure I‟ll be out here anyway once Jake arrives. He loves to swim.” “I bet he‟s a little fish,” said Ridley. “He loves the water,” said Damian, smiling. “I have a hard time getting him to leave the pool at home.” “Ridley and I can‟t wait to meet him,” I said. “Jake is a good kid. He‟s a little confused right now, with everything going on. But, I‟m hoping that with me not traveling so much, he‟ll come around.” “I‟m sure he will,” said Ridley, putting her shoe back on. “It‟s just going to take a little time.” “Divorce can be hard on a kid,” I said, thinking back to my parents again. “But, it‟s still better than 

living with people who are miserable and always fighting.” He nodded. “We certainly did enough of that.” “I survived. Jake will, too,” I said. “Your parents divorced?” he asked. “Yes.” I told him about my parents and their struggles. “I understood that it was for the better, even though it took some time getting used to. I never stopped loving either of them, though.” Damian smiled. “It‟s too bad. I‟m sure your father might have even still loved your mother. Alcoholism is a horrible disease. I‟ve also seen what it does to people.” I thought about John‟s warning, but brushed it aside. I‟d lived with an alcoholic and Damian didn‟t strike me as one. “I‟m sure he did, too. Unfortunately, there was a long line of alcoholics on my dad‟s side of the family. Every last one of them were in denial.” “That‟s unfortunate,” he said. “What about you? Do you have any addictions?” “None that I‟m aware of,” I said and then smiled. “Maybe food.” His eyes lowered. “It doesn‟t seem to be hurting you.” I chuckled. “That‟s because I jog most mornings.” “Sorry, no places to jog on the ship. Just the treadmills,” he said. “That works, too,” I replied. “Speaking of food, I should probably show you the galley next.” Billionaire at Sea “Good idea,” said Ridley, who‟d been listening silently. “We‟ve had some of your orders delivered already. If there‟s anything else you think you‟ll need, let me know.” “I think we‟ll be good,” I replied. “We‟re setting sail pretty late tomorrow. So, if you do notice something missing, we should be able to remedy the situation,” he said. “I know we‟re supposed to be receiving a final delivery tomorrow,” said Ridley. “The meat market promised to have our shipment here by ten a.m.” Damian nodded. “Okay. I‟ll have my crew watch for them.” “In the meantime, we should probably verify everything that‟s been received so far,” I said to Ridley. “Definitely.” She looked at him and smiled. “And then afterward, I‟m going for a swim.” “Good idea. You‟ll probably want to use it as much as you can before the guests arrive. Once they‟re here, I‟d recommend that you avoid it until they‟re gone,” said Damian. “I understand. We‟ll be on the clock anyway,” said Ridley. “That‟s not it,” he replied. He doesn’t want us mingling with the guests, I thought. As if reading my mind, he told us that he thought it would just be safer, since we were the only two females on board

“To be honest, I don‟t know much about these guests, other than they‟re friends with the guy getting married. I trust him. I just don‟t entirely trust his buddies. Your safety is my utmost concern.” “We appreciate it,” said Ridley, smiling at him. He shrugged. “I made a promise to you and I intend to keep it.” “Thank you,” I said, warming up to him more and more. He really was a thoughtful guy. “Now that we‟re on the ship, can you at least tell us who‟s getting married?” asked Ridley. “You just can‟t stand the suspense, can you?” Damian said with a wry smile. “No. I can‟t,” she admitted. He snorted. “Fine. I imagine you‟ve heard of Ransom?” Ridley‟s eyes looked like they were about to pop out of her face. “The singer?” “Yes. It‟s his bachelor party,” said Damian. “Oh, my God,” she squealed. “We actually get to meet him!” “Not if you‟re going to act like that. I‟ll lock you in the galley if you freak out around him,” I said, amused. She looked at me like I was an idiot. “You do know who he is?” “Yes. Of course,” I replied. Everyone had heard of Ransom, the famous badboy singer. He‟d been discovered on American Icon, a popular reality show, a few years ago. I didn‟t keep tabs on celebrities or read the tabloids, however, so I Billionaire at Sea had no idea that he‟d been dating anyone special, let alone getting married. “Don‟t worry,” said Damian. “I had the same reaction myself when I found out. I even found myself shopping for bras, just so I could throw one at him when I saw him in concert.” He raised his voice. “He‟s so dreamy.” Ridley and I laughed. “Talking about me behind my back again?” said an amused voice. We all turned around to find Marshall standing there with a wide grin. “We were talking dreamy, not dweebie,” said Damian. Marshall put his hand on his heart. “I‟m deeply offended.” “Good. Paybacks are a bitch. Now, what‟s up?” asked Damian, becoming serious again. Ridley and I stole a glance at each other. It was obvious Damian and Marshall had a unique kind of employer-employee relationship. “I believe this is yours?” he said, holding out a cell phone. Damian appeared relieved. “Thank you. I was wondering where I‟d left it. Where was the damn thing?” “The bridge. Jeff actually found it,” he replied, handing it to him. “Who‟s Jeff? The captain?” asked Ridley

“No, he‟s the officer on watch. Charles Fayland is the captain. He won‟t be arriving until tomorrow,” said Damian, scrolling through his phone. “So, how do you like the ship so far?” Marshall asked. “It‟s beautiful,” said Ridley. “And huge.” “Yes. Neither of us can get over the size,” I said. Marshall smirked. “Well, you know what they say about guys who feel the need to compensate for what they lack in–” “The only thing I‟m lacking in is good help,” said Damian. “By the way, didn‟t I fire you last week?” “I believe it was the week before,” Marshall replied with a satisfied grin. “That‟s what I thought. He‟s like a bad penny,” muttered Damian, looking up. “I just can‟t seem to get rid of him.” “I bring you luck though,” said Marshall. “If it wasn‟t for me you wouldn‟t have met these two.” Ridley and I looked at each other in surprise. “We were at this party in Hollywood, or was it Beverly Hills? I can‟t remember,” explained Marshall. “Damian didn‟t want to go but I insisted.” “True. Good thing I did. That‟s how we met Michael,” said Damian as his phone began to vibrate. “I don‟t know how he does it but Michael always manages to rub elbows with some pretty famous people,” said Ridley. “He‟s charismatic,” I said. “People are drawn to him.” Billionaire at Sea “Yes, and he knows a little about everything, so he‟s interesting to talk to. By the way, it appears that I have to step away and make a phone call,” said Damian, frowning down at his cell. He looked up. “Marshall? Could you please show them the galley and if I don‟t catch up with you, the bridge as well? I have a feeling I‟m going to be tied up for a while.” “My pleasure,” said Marshall. “Sorry to keep getting pulled away. This time it‟s my ex,” said Damian. “She‟s in an uproar about something.” “Good luck with that,” said Marshall. “Just be thankful you don‟t have to deal with her on a daily basis anymore.” “Believe me, I thank my lucky stars every day. Anyway, I‟ll catch up with you in a little while. I apologize.” “No apology needed,” I said. “We totally understand,” added Ridley. “Thank you,” he replied. “So, how long have you worked for Damian?” asked Ridley, after Damian left. “Long enough to know that he‟s going to be on the phone for a very long time,” he said. “So, you‟re stuck with me for a while.” “There are worse things to be stuck with,” said Ridley, smiling. His lip twitched. “Thank you. I think?”

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