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Date with a Diva

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«Date with a Diva» - Джоанна Рок

Lainie Reynolds's long-ignored libido has picked a fine time to wake up. Just when she's got her hands full at her sexy singles resort, Nico Cesare is in her face. The sexy man definitely is to blame for her out-of-control hormones. Since he won't be ignored, she'll simply have to tackle him in the sheets and get him out of her system.The first time he lays eyes on South Beach's infamous diva, Nico suspects there's a sensual goddess lurking beneath Lainie's do-not-touch exterior. And he has to have her. She's agreed to a sultry affair, but has made it clear that she's too independent for anything more. But Nico's already in deep, and a series of suspicious incidents at the resort gives him the perfect opportunity to be with her day and night. What better way to show her that this kind of heat lasts for a long time?
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Nico stared down at her with dark, smoldering eyes

Nico stared down at her with dark, smoldering eyes

“Damn, but you’re hot.”

Lainie reached out for him impatiently. “How would you know when you’re not even close enough to touch?”

He fell on her with a speed that would have done his sport proud. God knows it pleased her no end. He stretched out next to her on the lounger, molding his body to hers as they lay on their sides, facing each another. His hand tugged down the zipper on her skirt. “How about this? Is this close enough?”

“Not nearly, and you know it.” She wriggled her hips to ease the zipper down all the faster. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.”

Steering the skirt over her hips and down her thighs, he stared into her eyes as if he could see every secret hidden inside her. “Don’t worry about me finishing. I’m just going to make sure that it’s you who finishes first.”



Dear Reader,

When I first conceived the idea for the SINGLE IN SOUTH BEACH series, I paired off Brianne, Summer and Giselle—three of the owners of Club Paradise—pretty quickly. But then I looked at the last co-owner, burned-by-love divorcée Lainie Reynolds, and wondered who I could put in her path that would inspire her to take a second chance. The resort CEO and diva of South Beach would steamroll over the average man in no time.

Luckily, Giselle Cesare had a wealth of arrogant, in-your-face brothers running around Miami, and I chose Nico, the wild hockey player, to turn Lainie’s head. I hope you’ll agree these two make a fun couple, although get ready for some serious sparks to fly! This is one heroine who isn’t wading back into romance easily.

I hope you’ll join me for next month’s SINGLE IN SOUTH BEACH story. Her Final Fling will be a July Harlequin Temptation novel, and we’ll see what’s in store for Nico’s older brother Vito. Visit me at www.JoanneRock.com to learn more about my future releases!

Happy reading,

Joanne Rock

Date with a Diva

Joanne Rock



www.millsandboon.co.uk

For the wonderfully supportive folks at Harlequin who make following my writing dream such a continuous pleasure. In particular, I can’t send enough thanks to the art department for the fabulous covers, the marketing and public relations departments for sending my stories across the globe, the production department for refining my word choices on those occasions when my tongue gets tangled and the editorial department for providing such a fantastic venue for series romance.

And for Dean, who is especially helpful when it comes to offering insights on the mind of the male athlete.

Thank you for the ten-year hockey education, and oh yeah—Go Penguins!

Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Epilogue

Prologue

CREATING TROUBLE in Club Paradise:

1 Initiate personnel problems among the staff.

2 Lay the groundwork for an explosive situation.

3 Publicize the whole mess on network television, or better yet—a full-length feature film.

4 Force The Diva—ice princess Lainie Reynolds—to remember my name.

The disgruntled Club Paradise guest crossed off the first item on the list while listening to the argument brewing in the hallway just outside one of the exotic hotel’s kitchens. The lush South Beach singles’ resort would rapidly lose credibility without a chef, and from the sounds of things, the new cook wouldn’t last the rest of the day.

Pencil hovering above the second task on the list, the intruder peered across the kitchen to the half-prepared food strewn across a counter beside the stainless-steel sink. No sense being premature about scratching the explosion item off the list. With any luck, all hell would break loose soon anyhow.

For now, everything was right on schedule.

Just the way uptight perfectionist Lainie Reynolds liked it.

1

ALONE AT LAST.

When she’d finally put a good thirty blocks between her and Club Paradise, CEO Lainie Reynolds found a bench near the ocean and let out the breath she’d been holding ever since she stormed out of the hotel. Always conscious of her image, she hadn’t wanted to be near anyone she worked with when she allowed the stress from her hellacious day to flood through her.

Setting down the flask of Kentucky bourbon on the wooden bench beside her, she let her frustrations hiss between her teeth in the form of an extended sigh.

Damn Robert Flynn.

She’d been divorced from him for almost a year now, so she hadn’t expected her ex-husband’s preliminary hearing to prey so heavily on her heart. Hell, she’d helped put the bastard behind bars after he’d cheated on her with a gorgeous younger woman, then proceeded to cheat their friends and business associates out of millions of dollars. He’d embezzled money from the resort she’d held a small share in and later reorganized, so essentially he’d stolen from her, too.

He’d also cleaned out their checking account and used some of her personal money to buy up local real estate and sell it for his own profit before he skipped town.

Her divorce had been bitter to say the least.

Indulging in another nip from the elegant flask she’d never had cause to use until now, Lainie breathed in the moist, salty air and willed herself to relax. She needed the soothing peace of a quiet stretch of ocean to process everything that had happened today.

The news of Robert’s hearing had hit her hard, but she hadn’t been able to think through it with a film crew arriving at the resort to start production of a new movie this week. Having Club Paradise featured in the sexiest new action-adventure drama to be released next year could really put them on the international map.

But her life was such a screwed-up mess she wouldn’t be able to make the most of the opportunity unless she pulled herself together. On top of that, it would be torturous to be around all those steamy scenes in progress while her own love life sucked.

Only when her heart rate slowed did she allow herself to drag today’s paper out of her purse.

Fallen Flynn Held Without Bail.

There was a mug shot of Robert Flynn, her cheating ex, beside the headline. Underneath that picture there was a photo of her and Robert at a charity gala last spring, a huge Miami society event that had been sponsored by her law firm. It had been the beginning of the end for them since she’d caught him canoodling with some paralegal from her company during the silent auction portion of the evening. One of many in a long line of women, she discovered later.

Her eyes had been irrevocably opened that night after years of denial. But when the newspaper photo had been taken, that awful moment of realization hadn’t happened yet. Lainie was clutching Robert’s hand with the mindless conviction of someone who needed to be right about her choices no matter what the cost. She’d never been a clingy woman, but she’d always been certain that whatever she chose must be right by sheer virtue of the fact that she’d made the decision.

So damn full of herself.

Lainie picked up the flask again, promising herself this would be her last sip. She was a one-or-two glass kind of woman, refusing to ever succumb to a state of being where she would be out of control. Sloppy. Or worst of all, stupid.

Savoring the burn in her throat from that last swig even as she crammed the flask back in her purse, she was surprised to see tears fall on the newspaper she held in her lap.

He deserved to be in jail. She wanted him in jail, damn it. She just hadn’t counted on how much the confirmation of his criminal activity in black and white would make her feel like a first-class failure.

Grateful she’d escaped Club Paradise before she lost it, Lainie let the tears dot the newsprint. Sure she’d recovered financially from the whole disaster—she’d left her law practice and ended up taking over Club Paradise with the help of three partners. They’d shifted the focus of the resort from a schmaltzy couples’ love nest to a sleek, sensuous playground for singles, and met with phenomenal success.

But in all the months she’d struggled to put the business in the black, Lainie had never once stopped to put her heart back in order. Damn. Damn. Damn.

Folding and unfolding the newspaper in her lap, Lainie allowed the hurt of Robert’s betrayal to wash over her. She’d always hated being the butt of a joke, and now she seemed to be a full-blown source of public ridicule. Even now during her anonymous minibinge on the beach she felt people’s eyes on her, as if they were pointing and staring behind her back. Ridiculous.

She would indulge the pity party for ten more minutes and then she’d get back to business. Back to her one-track life.

But as she stared down at the front page of the Miami Herald, Lainie spied a pair of men’s worn leather loafers out of the corner of her eye. Great. Just what she didn’t need. Witnesses to the damn pity party.

Apparently there were eyes on her after all. With any luck, those eyes belonged to someone who didn’t have a damn clue about her hideous mistake.

Thankfully, the shoes stepped back again, away from her and her personal dark cloud. But just as she breathed a sigh of relief, the shoes came back. Closer. Paused.

Irritated, Lainie arranged her features in a death stare guaranteed to set any man on his ass. As she lifted her chin and spied the rest of the loafer owner, however, it occurred to her there might be better uses for this particular man’s ass.

A marathon sack session immediately sprang to mind.

He had the body of an athlete, which couldn’t be disguised by his khaki shorts and black polo shirt with some kind of panther logo on the pocket. From the mouthwatering definition of his pecs against the cotton fabric, she just knew he’d have amazing abs under that shirt. At a few inches over six foot, he had long arms and legs, bronzed and sprinkled with dark hair, thanks to some sort of Mediterranean heritage.

And, yes, after she noticed the body that looked as if it could go all night long, she did also take a glance at his face. With his thick dark hair and long eyelashes framing gorgeous brown eyes, he would have been way too pretty if not for a nose that had seen the wrong end of too many fistfights. Two distinct crooks could have been borderline disfiguring on anyone else, but they gave this guy a certain all-male, don’t-mess-with-me appeal.

“Lainie?”

So much for anonymous.

She shook off her frank observation of the interloper, wondering where all that female interest had come from. She hadn’t noticed any man that way since…before she got married.

Welcome back, hormones.

Still, as nice as it might be to know she could experience the itch, she wasn’t in any mood for scratching today. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

Scavenging for some semblance of the death stare, she settled for a mild glare. No matter how enticing this newcomer might be, she really needed to be alone today until she could rein in her messy emotions.

“I’m Nico.” He said it with the certainty of a man who knew his identity would explain everything.

“I’m usually good with names, but—”

“Nico Cesare. Giselle’s brother?” He sounded vaguely put out. That was the problem with good-looking men. They thought they were too memorable to forget.

Giselle Cesare was one of four partners that owned controlling shares of Club Paradise. She and Lainie had their differences since Giselle had slept with Lainie’s ex-husband—before they’d divorced. Very messy situation all around. Their partnership had been hideously tense until they’d joined forces in a mini-sting operation to bring Robert Flynn to justice.

And come to think of it, there had been another guy who’d waltzed onto the scene the day they’d brought down Robert.

She snapped her fingers as she recalled the man’s face.

“You were there the day they arrested my ex.” The memory blindsided her with sudden clarity. She’d put the event out of her mind until today’s newspaper had hit her desk.

His expression softened. “When Giselle’s boyfriend asked me for backup, how could I refuse a chance to bring down the pissant crook who screwed over my sister?” As he shrugged, his square shoulders drew her eye. “No offense.”

Lainie let the old anger roll over her. Off her. “Robert Flynn has already offended me more than any one woman deserves. I think I’m impervious to your run-of-the mill slights and slurs.”

“But I didn’t mean—”

“You didn’t mean to imply I married a blight on humanity? Of course you did. And how can I penalize you for an honest observation?”

“Touchy subject?” He reached in his pocket and withdrew some sort of orange-and-purple beanbag. Whatever it was, he squeezed the fabric back and forth between his fingers in an almost unconscious gesture.

“Not at all.” She folded the newspaper article in half, unwilling to let him see she’d been wasting even ten minutes mourning her failed marriage to a criminal. She peered around the beach in an effort to change the subject. “You live around here?”

“No. I just happened to be in the neighborhood. I thought I recognized you from Club Paradise and I—” he worked the little orange-and-purple sack in his hand faster “—thought I shouldn’t let you drink alone.”

Crap.

“You saw me hitting the bottle?” Now the only man who’d awakened her hibernating hormones in years thought she was a closet drunk. Probably just as well since she had no business drooling over Giselle’s too handsome brother anyhow. And hadn’t her friend said all her brothers were overprotective and chauvinistic? Thanks, but no thanks.

“It seemed a little incongruous for a businesswoman wearing white linen to go for the flask in the middle of a public beach.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of her bench. “Mind if I join you?”

“Why? So you can make sure your sister’s business partner doesn’t go on a bender in full view of the all-important Miami tourist crowd?”

“Um. No.” Nico swiveled his head around to glance up and down the beach. “I read the paper today, too. And in my family, we don’t let each other drink alone.”

A pause stretched between them. His words flustered her more than she would let on, but maybe that was just because she felt like an emotional basket case today. And, damn it, since when were good-looking guys also thoughtful? Maybe she was just disconcerted because he insisted on playing against type.

“You’re welcome to have a seat.” She scooted over a few inches to make sure they wouldn’t be too close. “But since we’re not family, you don’t need to risk your liver for me.”

“Trust me, I’ve taxed my liver for far less worthy causes.” He lowered himself to the bench, which was a long way down for a man so damn tall. “I got blitzed once so our star forward could tell his wife it had been me who trashed their house at a team party. We thought a vodka-induced stupor might make the story more believable and, sure enough, she bought it.”

“Another woman deceived. How noble.” Any warmth Lainie might have felt at his mission not to let her drink alone vanished.

“Stupid, wasn’t it? She was eight months pregnant at the time and I thought I’d be the good guy by smoothing over another player’s mistake.” He shook his head as he tossed the orange-and-purple object he’d been holding into the air. A Hacky Sack. She remembered seeing kids kick a beanbag like that from foot to foot on playgrounds.

“But I only staved off the inevitable,” Nico continued, tossing and catching the sack while hardly sparing a glance for the action. “The guy couldn’t handle fame and fortune, let alone a wife and kid. Yvonne would have been better off knowing what a shit she’d married straight out of the gate.”

“Amen.” Lainie didn’t bother informing him that sometimes women were well aware of their spouses’ shortcomings—they were simply too proud to admit them. Or did that particular stubborn streak only apply to her? “So what is all this talk of a team and star forwards? You play basketball?”

Her sports knowledge was nonexistent, but she’d dated a Michael Jordan fan in her pre-Robert Flynn era, and she was pretty sure forwards went with hoops. Maybe.

He snagged his Hacky Sack out of the air and clutched his chest as if she’d dealt him a blow. “Damn that hurts. Giselle doesn’t ever talk about her brothers? Hell, I brag to everyone I meet what a great chef she is and how she owns a piece of Club Paradise. She never so much as breathed a word to her partners about her brother playing hockey?”

“Given the rocky start to our partnership, Giselle and I pretty much stuck to business whenever we were forced to speak to one another until recently.” They’d launched a kick-ass singles’ resort with the help of their partners Brianne Wolcott and Summer Farnsworth.

“Where do you play hockey?”

“Played. Past tense.” Nico stared out at the ocean and she recognized the tension humming through his body. The leashed desire to rage at the world. “I used to play with the Florida Panthers before I pulled my hamstring and became washed up at thirty-two. Now I’m a second-rate coach on the team I took to the Stanley Cup finals.”

“I won’t pretend to know anything about sports, but I’m sure that sucks.” Lainie wondered if he realized he had the Hacky Sack strangled in a death grip.

“And that was just the start of my year. Speaking of which, where did you hide that flask?”

Lainie debated the wisdom of spending any more time in his company. She felt more than a little vulnerable out here with all her usual boundaries thrown aside. The bourbon singing in her veins kept telling her she deserved some company, but her better judgment knew she couldn’t afford any hot and heavy interlude when she was still on the rebound.

Maybe as long as she didn’t allow herself to get sucked in by those dark, brooding eyes, she’d be okay.

“I don’t mind sharing my stash, Cesare.” She reached for the flask and handed it over with a flourish. Bourbon loosening her tongue, she couldn’t help drawing boundaries early on. “But consider yourself forewarned—just because we share a drink doesn’t mean I’m going home with you.”

NOTHING LIKE COMING STRAIGHT to the point.

But then, in the weeks that he’d been watching Lainie Reynolds, Nico had learned a man needed an iron-fortified ego to withstand the likes of the Club Paradise CEO.

The shrewd Miami attorney-turned-businesswoman had a reputation for plowing through obstacles, focusing on her goals with single-minded determination. They called her the “Diva” behind her back, but anyone who wanted to do business with her tended to call her ma’am.

Luckily for Nico, the required hearty ego didn’t present a problem. A damn good thing since he wanted Lainie. Badly.

“I appreciate the heads up on the sleeping arrangements. Or lack thereof.” He took the proffered container, holding her gaze as his fingers grazed hers. She had damn warm fingers for a cool, remote diva. “I trust you’ll let me know if you change your mind on that?”

As someone who held the record for most shutouts in a hockey season in the NHL, he wasn’t used to being refused. Not that he’d ever been the kind of guy to pursue women for sport, but normally if he was interested, so was the female in question. Even now that his career as a star goalie was in the toilet, he still attracted plenty of recognition. Attention. Women.

Except for this one.

“You’ll definitely be the first to know.” She retracted her fingers, seeming to retreat from him mentally, too. But then, he’d known from the start she was having a bad day since he’d followed her all the way from the resort late this afternoon.

He’d been on the property to oversee a few things for his sister since she’d taken off to Europe with her new boyfriend. Giselle had left her position as executive chef, carefully hiring her replacement before she went overseas, but she’d wanted to be sure the woman’s adjustment went smoothly, given that Lainie Reynolds was a notoriously tough boss.

Nico had meant to get around to checking on the club, but he’d had five other things to do at the club and he’d gotten distracted when he’d spotted Lainie storming out of the hotel shortly after six o’clock—early in the day for a big-time workaholic. He’d followed her on instinct.

With medium height and a fairly average female build, there was nothing physically tangible he could point to about Lainie Reynolds that had captured his attention. But there was something about the force of her personality that came through in her ramrod-straight posture and her smooth, efficient way of moving. Shoulder-length blond hair grazed a white linen jacket that looked as if it wouldn’t dare wrinkle while she wore it. Her short white skirt was pencil slim and showed off legs that hadn’t seen much sun despite the relentless Florida weather.

He didn’t know her well, but she’d snagged his eye last month when she’d joined forces with his sister to put Lainie’s embezzling ex-husband behind bars. Nico had arrived on the scene to find Ms. Corporate Lainie decked out in full ass-kicking regalia, from steel-toed boots to eye-popping leather pants that had invaded his dreams ever since. He’d be hard-pressed ever to look at Ms. Corporate in the same way again.

Too bad she’d barely taken note of him. Then or now.

But if Nico had anything to say about it, that was all about to change.

.

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