like a hurricane
Leaning against the trunk of a graceful palm tree, Quinn McGrath took a breath of salty air and studied the shallow sapphire waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The fireball that had baked the t ourists on the beach all day was about to kiss an indigo horizon. Wispy clouds had turned peachy pink, and the humidity hung as the world anticipated the sun’s touchdown.
But Quinn wasn’t the least bit interested in the postcard view. It was the mess behind him that brought him to St. Joseph’s Island in Florida.
Rolling up his shirt sleeves and blessing his decision to leave his suit jacket and tie in the rental car, he turned his experienced gaze on the ramshackle tile roof, the precarious third-floor balconies and the circa-1950 jalousie windows of Mar Brisas Resort.
No wonder the owner had canceled their late afternoon meeting via a curt email. Although Quinn hadn’t met the guy, he knew all he needed to know about Nick Whitaker from the broken banisters, chipped tiles and cracked sofits that hung from elegantly arched windows. Mar Brisas’s owner was obviously spending his insurance money on something other than storm damage repairs.
The change in schedule didn’t bother Quinn. In fact, he preferred to take a tour by himself. Without Nick Whitaker to sidestep and sugarcoat the real problem areas.
Jorgensen Development Corporation could get this place for a song. All he had to do was prove to Dan Jorgensen that he knew the tune. His boss had made it plenty clear that full partnership in the development firm was the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow and Quinn was itching to get his hands on it.
The air was no cooler in the lobby. No doubt Whitaker was saving every dime by not using the air conditioner. His footsteps echoed on the Spanish tile floor, the once-cozy lobby devoid of guests and, evidently, staff. The place was spotless, he’d give it that. But he’d find the flaws.
He slipped into a stairwell and took the steps two at a time to the third floor. As soon as the door closed behind him, he heard it lock and he cursed under his breath.
At one end of the darkened hall, a step ladder leaned precariously against the wall, surrounded by a white canvas tarp and what looked like roofing paper. This must be where the workmen hung out...because they certainly weren’t working.
Quinn walked in the opposite direction, toward an ancient elevator barely big enough to hold two people and their suitcases. The wooden doors weren’t completely closed, he realized as stuck his hand in the inch-wide crack between them. With a quick shove, they opened with a soft thunk.
At least he thought it was a soft thunk, because at that instant, any blood intended for brain functions such as hearing or speaking or thinking went rushing off to another place.
Holy...He could only stare. Up. At the sight of two amazing female legs hanging out of an open access panel in the ceiling, dangling a good four feet off the ground. Long, lean, tan and bare, they emerged from a blue skirt, he saw as he slowly leaned in and peered up. A skirt that had ridden just high enough to show the tops of deliciously taut thighs and an edge of similarly colored lace.
One leg jerked. "Son of a bitch!"
At the muffled cry, Quinn jumped back to avoid a screwdriver that sailed from the hole and clattered onto the floor. The tool landed next to a pair of strappy high-heeled sandals, a blue jacket and a briefcase standing on its side.
So the skirt and matching panties had a voice. And, evidently, a toolbox.
He cleared his throat noisily. "Excuse me?"
A loud shriek followed as the skirt wiggled. Quinn’s throat constricting against the pounding pulse in his neck. That blood was moving fast. South. This was not your average elevator repairman.
"Would you like some help up there?"
A hand with pink fingernails reached down and frantically pulled at the skirt, hiding the blue lace trim, but not the thighs. The decidedly feminine backside squirmed, accompanied by another little mewing sound as the skirt – bless the tiny thing – crept higher up in response.
"Oh – oh! I’m stuck!"
He dodged a sudden swing of one long, shapely leg, then watched as the blue material shimmied left and right in a vain attempt to descend and dainty bare feet pointed to the ground. His instinct was to reach out and help her, but he was momentarily paralyzed. Surely his hand would accidentally land on a soft, feminine piece of flesh.
That did it.
The blood reached its destination and Quinn sucked in a breath as arousal sucker punched him. Without thinking, he grabbed the hips, careful to touch only the fabric of her skirt.
She shrieked again. "Hey! What are you doing?"
He held tight. "Trying to get a round peg out of a square hole." He gripped the curve of her hips, inadvertently bunching the material and leaving him with a handful of pure, silky thigh. Oh, man. "If you, uh, just relax, ma’am, I can bring you down."
"Relax?" The muscles under his fingers tightened in sheer defiance of the order.
"Relax," he urged, sliding his hand to a covered area.
He heard a moan, then, "Okay."
"All right, I’ve got you." It didn’t take much strength, but he was happy for his six-foot-plus height and the hours he’d spent at the gym as he eased her body down. Every one of his senses slammed into full alert as he drowned in the intoxicating feminine scent of her and studied the perfect curves of her backside under silky material of her skirt as she descended.
Inch by scrumptious inch, he brought her closer to the ground. She let out tiny whimpers of discomfort that made him want to cradle her closer. A narrow waist emerged from the opening, followed by a sleek, toned back, covered only in a thin blue tank top, the same color as the skirt and...coordinated undergarments.
As her head dipped into the elevator, he saw a twisted mass of thick, dark hair stabbed with a yellow pencil – a pencil?
Once her bare feet were firmly planted on the floor, she kept her back to him as she reached up and yanked her skirt furiously over her thighs. Too bad. He’d miss them.
"Thank you." The tremble in her voice touched him.
"No problem." None. At all. He’d do it again in an instant.
She still didn’t turn and he fought the urge to gently twirl her around. He wanted to see her. He needed to see what kind of face went with a body like that.
She stood perfectly still, square shoulders topped by the ridiculous pencil ‘do.
He cleared his throat again. "Well. Okay, then." He tapped the wall of ancient looking elevator buttons. "First floor? Ladies lingerie?"
The proud shoulders shook in a sudden laugh. Good. It would be a crime if hips and thighs and legs like that didn’t have a sense of humor.
"It’s okay," he told her. "I didn’t see anything I haven’t seen before." He paused, that single flash of blue lace burning in his brain. "Just at a new and different angle."
She chuckled again.
"Kinda makes me want to move in this place permanently."
In an instant, she whipped around. "Really?"
Then Quinn McGrath got sucker punched again.