Authors: Donna Kauffman
Tango in Paradise
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1994 by Donna Kauffman
The Devil’s Thief
by Samantha Kane copyright © 2012 by Nancy Kattenfeld.
by Adrienne Staff copyright © 1988 by Adrienne Staff.
The Perfect Catch
by Linda Cajio copyright © 1995 by Linda Cajio.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
Tango in Paradise
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1994.
To Carmen—for always being there.
Your friendship is priceless.
If there was a place worse than hell, then that’s where her day was headed.
“What do you mean they’re
gone?” April Morgan asked into the cellular phone as she stepped through the side door of Paradise Cove into the bright Mexican sunshine. It wasn’t even nine A.M., and the resort was already blanketed with a thick layer of humidity that the typically windy conditions did little to disperse.
April sighed in resignation as her assistant relayed the bad news. She paused by the stuccoed pillars that framed the main entrance. “Carmen, don’t tell me I’ve lost my head bartender and my
staff photographer”—April shifted the folders in her left arm to her right, glanced at her watch,
then shifted everything back, barely missing a beat—“less than five hours before the wedding rehearsal for Senator Smithson’s only daughter. Do you know why?”
April exhaled a long, frustrated breath through clenched teeth as Carmen explained that Steve and Bernardo had decided, after sharing a bottle of wine, that they had a life together and wanted to explore the possibilities.
“All this from a bottle of Chianti? Couldn’t they have ‘explored the possibilities’
the ceremony?” The question was academic, as Carmen went on to explain that the two had cleared out their belongings and apparently left the resort for good.
Irritated as she was by their untimely departure, April pushed the why’s and how’s out of her mind and focused her attention on getting replacements.
“Find Paolo for me and tell him he’ll have to work the bar this afternoon after all. Then see if you can get through to Club Med and beg, borrow, or steal us a photographer. Give them whatever they want. I doubt they’ll be able to get someone here by this afternoon, but tomorrow for the wedding will do. Beep me when you get an answer.”
April clicked off, tucked the phone into the side pocket of her floral skirt, then stared unseeing across the resort compound as she tried and failed
to come up with a backup plan in case Carmen didn’t succeed.
Building a resort in the middle of nowhere hadn’t been her intention when she’d fled Washington for the privacy of her grandfather’s small charter-fishing service ten years ago. If he were still alive, she was sure he’d appreciate the irony of how the very remoteness of the southern coastal area she’d once insisted would be the solution to all her problems was now the source of so many new ones. Yet, it was his advice that had enabled her to deal with so many of them. “April Marie,” he’d said, “you want somethin’ bad enough, you gotta go and get it. It sure as hell ain’t gonna come to you.”
She looked around at what she’d built on that advice and had to smile. She heard that gravelly voice now as clearly as if he were standing beside her. “That’s all fine and well, Gramps,” she said quietly into air fragrant with the blossoms of the bougainvillea he’d loved. “I just wished you’d added a few words of wisdom on how I’m supposed to go and get something that isn’t around to be got.”
April smiled and nodded to a few guests who stepped out onto the terraced entrance. Her smile faded when she heard the sounds of an escalating argument in the side parking lot.
Both voices were masculine. One spoke the musical tones of the Spanish dialect native to the villagers who made up most of the Cove’s
work force. The other voice was deeper, rougher, definitely not as polite, and came through in rather voluble English.
“Now what?” April usually let her staff handle the smaller crises, but she wanted to handle this herself, even though her agenda already read like the to-do list for reforming a third world country. Maybe it was the proverbial last straw. More likely, she just couldn’t resist the temptation to tackle a problem she had an actual chance at solving.
Rounding one of the large stone pillars that supported the roof of the covered guest lot, April spied the two men. One she immediately recognized as Miguel, a longtime employee and her best bellman.
The other man, apparently a newly arrived guest, stopped her in her tracks.
He was substantially taller than Miguel, and his hair was a windblown mass of brown waves. The rolled-up sleeves of his blue and white striped cotton shirt revealed muscular forearms, and riding low on his hips were jeans so old they had long ago formed a permanent, perfect fit to his muscular thighs and backside. Goodness, she thought as she ran her gaze over him again, even from a distance he made quite an imposing figure.
She tore her gaze away—surprised at her reluctance to do so—and focused on the object of a tug-of-war between her smiling, but adamant, bellman
and her much larger, and definitely not smiling, new guest. Banged up and not quite as shiny, the silver case still looked a lot like the one that Steve, her absent photographer, had always packed his camera equipment in.
No, she thought, this would be too good to be true. She never got anything without suffering for it.
You want somethin’ bad enough, you gotta go and get it
. Her grandfather’s words rang in her ears. She smiled and headed across the lot. “Right on, Gramps.”
As she drew closer to her new guest, several things struck her all at once. He had a roguish-looking day’s growth of beard, maybe two days’ worth, and his hair was actually lighter than she’d thought, streaked liberally with blond. Those windblown strands, as well as his jeans and shirt, had so much road dust on them she had to wonder if he’d rolled to the resort.
Neither man heard her approach and she took a quick glance into the battered Jeep that was parked beside the men. On the backseat was a canvas duffel bag and a beat-up nylon bag with what looked like a camera strap hanging out of the unzippered top. Bingo!
She glanced at her guest again. So what if he was a far cry from the typical well-groomed, heavy-walleted guest who frequented Paradise Cove? If
that silver case contained the equipment she hoped it did, he could be wearing a loincloth and still be the best thing she’d ever seen.
Resisting that mental picture, she cleared her throat. When that didn’t get either of the men’s attention, she placed her hand on the guest’s arm. His skin was hot and gritty and she could feel the pulse of the veins that stood out in stark relief. She quickly dropped her hand. “Excuse me, maybe I can be of some help here?”
He turned to her, ran a quick, appraising look over her short, slender body that left her feeling as though she’d just been frisked, then turned back to her bellman without comment. She was just about to step in again, a bit more forcefully this time, when he spoke.
“If you can make this guy stop grinning and nodding long enough to let go of my camera case, then the answer is yes.”
His deep voice sounded like gravel baked in the sun—hot, dusty, and a bit rough. April ignored his less than gracious behavior. She’d dealt with far worse in her thirty-two years. She smoothly cut in between the men and spoke to Miguel rapidly in the local Spanish dialect. The bellman nodded with a polite smile and immediately let go of the silver case. “Thank you, Miguel,” she finished. “Could you please get us a cart?”
Only after the bellman turned away did she face
her guest, a pleasant smile carved on her face. If she expected gratitude, one look at his expression told her she’d have a long wait. She’d apparently counted her blessings a bit prematurely. “Cooperative” wasn’t the first word that came to mind when she looked into his eyes. Or the second.
Irritation. Fatigue. Resignation at having to deal with yet another unwanted obstacle. Those were the things she saw as she gazed up into those startling light green depths.
“Look, miss, I appreciate you calling off the trained seal. And thanks, but I don’t need a cart. I’ve lugged these bags thousands of miles; I think I can make it to the lobby.” As if to prove his point, he hoisted the nylon tote on one shoulder, looping the long strap over his head, and shifted it across his broad chest. He then hefted the duffel bag out of the back of the Jeep before turning back to face her.
April pasted on her the-guest-is-always-right smile. She’d long ago learned it was the only way to deal with irascible guests and keep her sanity.
His use of the words “camera case” should have made the chore easier. But his quick, piercing assessment of her—which he’d made clear she’d failed miserably—still stuck under her skin like an annoying splinter. That confused her. She’d stopped trying to prove herself a long time ago,
having come to believe that success spoke louder than any number of well-chosen words.
And the last thing she wanted was for him to respond to her as a woman. All she needed from him was a quick resume, and some information on how well he could handle his equipment.
“I know I look a bit rough for the wear.” The corner of his mouth curled, slightly relieving the harshness of his bristled jaw. “If I promise you I clean up real good, would you point me in the direction of the lobby? I’d be eternally grateful.”
Instead of tired frustration, his weary voice held what sounded like a trace of amusement. April blinked twice before she realized she had been assessing him every bit as closely as he had her.
Only she’d taken a bit longer.
“Ah, certainly.” She squared her shoulders, as if it would give her instant command of the situation, but she still had to force her gaze away from him. “Just this way.” She headed back around the side path. Maybe with a bit of distance she could manage more scintillating conversation. “I take it you had a rough trip?”