Secrets on the Sand
Billionaires of Barefoot Bay #1
In Secrets on the Sand, Zeke Nicholas has turned his mathematical genius skills into a mountain of money. But Zeke sits on that mountain all alone, longing for the one thing money cannot buy: a lifelong partner and true love. Zeke grew up near Barefoot Bay and is staying at the resort for a week while he’s in town for a family event. Enter Mandy Mitchell…the maid. Except, Mandy is much more than that to Zeke—she was the object of his every teenage dream back in the days when she was known as “Mandy the Magnificent” but he’d earned the unflattering high school senior adjective of “Ezekiel the Geekiel.”
Zeke is no longer a geek—he’s gorgeous. And Mandy doesn’t feel so magnificent since her marriage fell apart and left her up to her eyeballs in debt and despair. The minute they meet again, Mandy knows he’s exactly the kind of trouble she should avoid…but Zeke does have one thing Mandy needs to gain the independence she craves. Will he give it to her?One look at Mandy, and Zeke turns his relentless ability to get what he wants into a full-on seduction and he’s ready to give her anything. But can Mandy face down the secrets of her past to find a fairy-tale future with Zeke?
Amanda arrived at the two-story vacation villa only slightly damp and out of breath. Setting her bucket down, but still holding the mop, she pulled out her master card key from the lanyard around her neck and tapped on the mahogany door.
“Housekeeping!” she called automatically before sliding the key in the lock.
She waited a beat, then tapped again and started to turn the knob, but the door whipped open from the other side, practically yanking her arm with it.
“You’re here now?” A man loomed in silhouette, backlit from the patio well behind him.
“You asked for…” She blinked as he took a step closer and she could see him clearly, losing her train of thought as she met Gulf-blue eyes fringed with dark lashes. Straight ebony hair brushed the collar of an expensive shirt. He was all black and blue…which was probably the shape this man left every heart he encountered. “I’m here to clean.”
But he seemed speechless, too, holding her gaze for a heartbeat or two, a frown pulling at his thick brows as he studied her—hard—then glanced at her mop. “I see that.” His eyes back on her face again, he searched every inch, from brow to chin and back again.
The scrutiny lasted one second too long, so she lifted the card key, flipping it to show her ID. “I’m with the resort.” Because he looked like he didn’t believe her. Or at least he didn’t believe…something. “You asked for your villa to be cleaned?”
“Uh, yeah, but later.”
Damn it! Tori had lied to her to throw off her schedule. Now she’d have to trudge all the way back down to the hotel. “All right, sorry for the incon—”
“No, wait.” He almost reached for her, then caught himself. “Stay and…clean.” He nearly swallowed the last word, as if it didn’t sound right to him.
“I don’t have—”
“Who are you?” he asked, still staring at her face.
Oh, jeez. Just her luck to get the nutcase. Great-looking, but a guest didn’t care what the maid’s name was unless he had a screw loose.
“I’m Amanda Lockhart from housekeeping.” She bent to scoop up the bucket as if that could prove it. “I was informed the Bay Laurel villa was ready for cleaning, but I can come back at a better time.”
“No, it’s just that…” His voice trailed off. Easily six-two with broad shoulders in a crisp white shirt tucked into pleated khaki pants, he wasn’t simply gorgeous, he oozed that indefinable something that came with money, class, and power. On most men, that revolted her. On him? Had to admit, nothing was revolting. “I have a guest,” he finally said.
She stepped back quickly, imagining some sultry brunette stripping down in his bedroom. Maybe two of them, by the looks of this guy. “I’ll come back. Say, three o’clock?”
Laser-blue eyes sliced her. “Do I know you?” His voice was tinged with something she couldn’t pinpoint in that split second. Hope? Expectation? Something.
“Doubtful.” She croaked the word, probably because there was no way anyone who had a single female hormone floating in her bloodstream would forget him. “Sorry to bother you, sir.”
“No,” he said quickly, opening the door even wider. “No, please. Come in…” That frown pulled again. “Amanda, did you say?”
She hesitated a second longer. “Not if you’re in the middle of something with a…a friend.”
The hint of a smile pulled at full lips, his eyes crinkling with a flicker of humor. “Not a friend.” He leaned a little closer and whispered, “But if I tell you who it is, you have to promise not to laugh.”
She didn’t move, her senses slammed by a clean, masculine scent and the low timbre of secret in his voice.
“It’s my mother,” he said, the smile widening. “And if you’re not careful, she’ll want to help you clean.”
She let out a quick laugh, the nerves receding but not the toe-curling impact of him. “I don’t need any help, but if you’re entertaining…”
“I’m afraid she’s not. Entertaining, that is.” He backed up to clear the doorway for her. “We’re on the patio.”
With a little uncertainty, she stepped into the cool air and rich comfort of the Moroccan-inspired decor. He fit in a place like this, as though the high-end designer had planned the dark wood and plush furnishings around someone with his size and command.
Deep inside, a familiar warning bell rang with a reminder that she’d sworn off men. All men in general. This kind of man in particular. Especially one who continued to look at her too intensely.
“Why don’t I start upstairs so I can stay out of your way?” Without waiting for a response, she walked toward the wrought iron banister, gripping her bucket and mop so they didn’t slip out of damp palms. Still, she could feel him looking at her, those gas-flame blues burning a hole in her back. Tensing, she put one foot on a step before sneaking a peek over her shoulder.
Sure enough, he was staring. With so much intensity it stole her breath.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“I…I have the strangest question,” he said, coming closer.
“Yes?” She braced herself for whatever it might be. A cleaning suggestion? A proposition? Maybe something as innocent as his favorite beer in the fridge? Guests could be strange. Not usually this drop-dead delicious, but strange.
He let out a self-conscious chuckle, shaking his head, a little color rising. Good heavens, was he nervous? Did this tall, dark, imposing master of the universe even know what insecurity was?
“Are you…” He angled his head, frowning hard, looking almost apologetic. “Are you Mandy Mitchell?”
Oh. Her knees buckled a little. Maybe with relief, maybe with that same shame that threatened her when Tori taunted with “senior adjectives” ripped from the pages of a yearbook.
“Not anymore,” she said softly, the weight of the bucket becoming too much at that moment. As she set it on the step, she nodded with resignation. “But, yes, I was. Do I know you?” Because, whoa and damn, how was it possible she didn’t remember meeting him?
“It is you.” He broke into a slow, glorious smile that was like someone had switched on a spotlight, blinding and white, that softened the sharp angles of his face and shadow of whiskers in hollow cheeks.
“Zeke Nicholas.” He took a few steps closer, reaching out his hand. “Mimosa High? Class of ’02?”
She’d gone to high school with this guy? And hadn’t dated him? Impossible. Without thinking, she lifted her free hand to his, getting another shock to the system when his fingers closed over hers, large and warm and strong and…tender.
“I’m sorry…Zeke.” Zeke? She’d never met a man with that name.
“Don’t be sorry,” he said, reluctantly releasing her hand. “We didn’t exactly run in the same circles.”
And why the heck not? “Are you sure?”
He laughed, the rumble in his chest a little too hearty and sincere. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t remember…” Anyone or anything that looked like him. “A Zeke.”
“I went by my full name then.” He gave her the most endearing smile that reached right into her chest and twisted her heart. “You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?”
“To help me out?”
He looked down for a split second, then back to her face, the gesture shockingly humble for a man who couldn’t be too familiar with humility. “Ezekiel Nicholas.”
Her jaw dropped as a memory snapped into place. “Ezekiel the Geekiel?” The second she said it, she gasped softly and lifted her hands to her mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“No, no.” He turned his hands up in surrender. “Guilty as charged by the dreaded senior adjectives.” Then he leaned a little closer and lowered his voice, his face close enough for her to count individual lashes. “Mandy the Magnificent.”
On his lips, the words were a sexy, sweet whisper of admiration that made every nerve in her body dance.