Riptide

Cutter Cay (Volume 2)

Cherry Adair

St. Martin's Paperbacks

Chapter 1
 

TARFAYA
MOROCCO

Trouble.
He didn’t anticipate it, but Nick Cutter always planned for it. And right now the hair on the back of his neck lifted.
Good enough for him.
Eyes concealed behind both brown contacts and dark glasses, he stretched his long legs out beneath the table. Toying with a small cup of fragrant mint tea, he scanned the immediate area. Just because he couldn’t see it, that didn’t mean it wasn’t here. The café was situated in the deep shade on the perimeter of a busy public square. Nick enjoyed a good meal, and since he was in control of the meeting, he’d eaten well, then pushed aside his empty plate to conclude business. The men seated across from him conversed in low Arabic, trying to come to agreement with his terms.
Two principals. Three bodyguards. All heavily armed.
Ostensibly bored, he waved a buzzing fly away from his face. He scanned the throngs of gregarious, noisy shoppers milling about the square for an indication of why he suddenly felt a brush of disquiet.
He wasn’t worried that anyone would recognize him. His disguise was solid. Like many of the people in the square, he wore a mushroom-colored djellaba, a kaftan-type robe that covered him from throat to toe. His most recognizable features were concealed behind the dark glasses and contacts. Judiciously applied makeup simulated the dusky skin tones of the majority of the people around him. And to further his disguise, his face was covered by a thick black beard that desperately needed grooming. It itched like hell. He’d had the beard for a while, now; time to shave it off.
If trouble was out there, it was for his alter ego Asim Nabi El Malamah, not Nick Cutter. Which increased Nick’s sense of disquiet. El Malamah had a bad rep for good reason. Nick had made sure of it.
Nothing seemed out of place. It was lunchtime, and the old city center of the twelfth-century fortress-walled medina was crowded and off the charts noisy. The hot breeze smelled of cumin, paprika, coriander, garlic, onions, and the half-empty dishes of tajine on the table.
Women vying for the best produce bargained loudly, their long jewel-colored djellabas brilliant as hummingbirds in the harsh sunlight. Laughing and shrieking, their children darted in and out of the stalls and between other shoppers, adding to the noisy chaos.
Nick had metaphorically chased the two principals until they’d caught him, then intentionally priced himself high enough to make himself almost unattainable. Almost. They wanted him, they’d pay. It was a precarious call, but a calculated risk.
Calculated risks were something of his specialty. But his superpower was his extraordinary ear for dialect inflections. He was one of only a handful of people in the world capable of determining a man’s history from a snippet of conversation.
He spoke eleven languages fluently, understood seven others, and even when he didn’t speak the language, prided himself on his ability to pick out nuances so minute that he could pinpoint the difference in dialect from towns fifty miles apart.
His specialized skills weren’t in high demand, which made the few “assignments” he accepted a novelty. He enjoyed doing his thing—which usually meant listening in on conversations at a safe distance from actual danger.
Players on the hook, Nick wanted back on board the Scorpion, suited up and a hundred feet deep in the ocean doing what he loved. Treasure hunting. They’d been salvaging the El Puerto for several months, and he was very pleased with the results. It was almost time to take his haul back to Cutter Cay.
Sooner would suit him better than later. The original “favor” he’d agreed to should have only taken an hour, tops. Instead, it had taken him three days to make contact. Now he knew what he wanted to know, and that should have been the end of it.
But the favor was different this time.
His friends had asked him to go way beyond a quick listen to ID a person of interest’s backstory, a hell of a lot more. Nick had agreed to see this through to end game.
He just hoped to hell his fascination with puzzles, his linguistic abilities, and his love of a challenge didn’t come back to bite him in the ass.
Like right about now.
He swiped a hand around the back of his neck as the two men continued talking in urgent undertones. They thought he was distracted, but he had ears—as his brother Logan would attest—like a bat. Najeeb Qassem and Kadar Gamali Tamiz whispered in darija, the informal Moroccan Arabic spoken by the locals, but the inflection was definitely Krio.
The fact that Qassem and Tamiz were both from Sierra Leone, although they’d informed him they’d been born and raised in Rabat, was not his concern. But the people he’d report this meeting to in a couple of hours would have one more piece in their intricately constructed puzzle.
And so would he, though he doubted his friends would share anything else with him. He’d baited the trap, as requested. It was past time for Asim Nabi El Malamah to disappear, and Nick Cutter to get the hell out of Dodge.
Ready to close the deal, Nick placed his cup on the table and shifted in his seat. Just then a gap opened between the shoppers, and his swiftly moving gaze snagged on a leggy brunette entering through one of the stone-arched gates. Hard to miss her killer body displayed in tight jeans and a loose white shirt among the loosely flowing djellaba-garbed people around her.
Now wasn’t she interesting and very much out of place?
He had a thing for tall, sophisticated brunettes.
Oh, yeah, Nick thought, observing the woman as she paused to talk to the ancient man selling dried rosebuds by the gate; she was definitely his thing. Her presence here could only mean the trouble he was sensing. The old man pointed across the square. He could be indicating the nearby silk kiosk, or the jewelry maker next door to the café. The medina was so tightly packed, the old man could have been pointing to a dozen different things.
Nick’s gut said otherwise.
The rose-seller was directing her to the table where he was concluding business. The woman glanced across the square in his direction, then turned back to smile her thanks, before heading his way.
Oh, yeah. Trouble with a capital T.
The only European woman in the bustling outdoor market, she stuck out like a catwalk model, and all eyes watched her saunter across the uneven stone on her high heels as though she were gliding over water. She had a loose-hipped stride that triggered carnal thoughts and turned heads. Like a heat-seeking missile, she was headed his way, her long legs drawing attention Nick didn’t need.
Damn it to hell.
He didn’t have the luxury of a long slow perusal. The closer she got, the faster he tried to figure out who’d sent her, what they wanted, and what her angle was. She was striking, and walked with the confident knowledge that men would look. And want.
Yeah, she was trouble all right. And out of place in the sun-drenched, noisy, frenetic medina filled with midday shoppers. Nick leaned back in his chair as she closed in.
“You know the woman?” Najeeb Qassem asked in Arabic. He couldn’t possibly miss the intent in the woman’s long-legged stride, or the direct path she was taking.
She had a fascinating awareness of the space around her. The square was crowded, but she didn’t let anyone get within arm’s length. A nifty trick that must have taken a lot of practice. She pulled it off like she wasn’t even trying.
Fifty yards and closing.
“La,” Nick responded shortly as he swiveled to redirect his attention at Kadar Gamali Tamiz, seated on his left. No, he didn’t know her. But he suspected he knew who she was. Even though her presence here in Morocco, and specifically in the medina, made no sense.
Which made her sudden appearance in the same place as Nick Cutter suspect.
Forty yards. “The number of containers, while somewhat difficult to conceal, is acceptable,” he said, his voice cool. “The price, however, is not. Getting on board undetected with all eyes on the ship will be a risky endeavor. Cutter is no fool. And while he is docked here to find more crew members, he will have his people scrutinize each new hire scrupulously.”
“Our men will pass even the closest scrutiny undetected, we assure you.”
Nick made to rise. “Then I suggest you use these men to carry the merchandise on board,” he said with enough finality in his tone to suggest he wasn’t anteing up any more than he had already. “If it’s such a simple task, you don’t need the likes of me to assure your prize is hidden well enough to avoid discovery.”
Tamiz’s fingers closed on his wrist. Narrow-eyed, Nick glanced from the man’s hand to his face. Tamiz quickly dropped his hand. “Apologies for the insult, my friend. My men are merely insurance that the product stays where you place it. Simple men.”
Nick settled back into his chair. “Well armed?” Thirty yards. Damn it.
“Of course.”
“Good.” Shit. Not good at all. Unknown, armed men on board his ship was just asking for trouble. “Your product would be valuable in any hands.”
“You are a hard man to negotiate with, sadiqi.”
“Not when the price is right.” Nick kept the woman in his peripheral vision. Twenty yards. With any luck she’d pass by, he’d enjoy a glance at her ass, and that would be that. He didn’t have excess time to admire the gentle bob of her breasts under her crisp white linen shirt. The hot breeze teased a few strands of her dark hair out of the severe hairstyle, and lovingly pressed the thin fabric of her shirt against her body, highlighting her mouthwatering shape.
Fifteen feet.
Her footsteps slowed. A calculated move? Or indecision?
“We would double your fee should you escort the merchandise to its final destination.” Qassem, a stick-thin man in his late sixties with a sun-lined face and bottomless black eyes, leaned forward. Nick had no intention of spending weeks on board his own ship in disguise.
“Tempting. But mal de mer must limit my participation in this endeavor,” Nick told him easily, watching the woman close the gap between them. She looked innocuous enough, but as he well knew, looks were deceiving. Her shiny black hair was slicked back to reveal high cheekbones, freshly glossed red lips, and a smooth olive complexion. Her eyes were hidden, like his, behind dark glasses. His gaze skimmed her body for a weapon, and his muscles tensed in anticipation. The jeans were tight, the shirt loose, and the leather bag over her shoulder looked heavy. She could be carrying an arsenal on her and nobody would know it.
He shifted so he had better access to the Sig Sauer covered in the folds of his loose clothing. “I have no desire to take an extensive ocean voyage,” he told Qassem. “I negotiate only for safe delivery of the merchandise to the ship, and making sure that it is well hidden so that it arrives as safely as a babe in his mother’s arms at its destination.”
Nick’s pulse picked up a different rhythm as the woman stepped into the shade mere feet from the table. She was close enough now for him to smell the heated perfume of her skin. Spiced peach. Sophisticated. Sexy. Exotic.
“Excusez-moi, messieurs.” Her contralto was naturally husky. Black velvet and incense. “Which of you is Asim Nabi El Malamah?” She spoke French with intriguing and subtle layers, doing a credible job pronouncing the unfamiliar name.
Too bad Nick didn’t want to hear it from her. Especially here. And sure as hell not now.
Her dialect gave her away. The second she’d said the first couple of words he knew exactly who she was.
Princess Gabriella Visconti.
Still didn’t answer why she was there. Or who’d sent her.
People were stopping what they were doing to stare. At her. At him. At his lunch companions. She looked expensive, chic, and perfectly at ease. Not a bead of perspiration marred her perfectly made-up matte complexion in the afternoon heat. Her hair, twisted into a coil at her nape, caught the sunlight with blue-black highlights, her olive skin hinted at the Mediterranean, and her accent was layered with more than enough to pique Nick’s interest. He ruthlessly tamped down his curiosity.
He knew the gist. More than enough.
“I’m busy,” he told her without inflection in Moroccan French. Asim Nabi El Malamah was notorious for doing anything. For a price. But his skills weren’t for the likes of her. And her contact with him, at this time, in this persona, could get her killed. Or worse.
Unfazed, she readjusted the heavy-looking leather tote up on her shoulder. “I’d like to hire y—”
“I repeat,” Nick’s voice was cold. Dismissive. Final. “I’m busy. Leave us, woman.”
“You to transport me to a ship…” She waved a slender hand in the general direction of the marina as if he hadn’t said a word.
Nick ran a bored finger around the rim of the gold cup, sharing an amused glance with the men at the table. Women, his shrug said, what can a man do?
Qassem scratched his beard. “What ship?”
Her hesitation was infinitesimal before she answered. “The Scorpion.” She turned back to Nick. “Do you know it?”
His ship? “No.” Nick slouched back and lifted his cup; the metal was warm from the tea. He glided his thumb across the smooth surface and wondered what her breast would feel like under his hand. Yes, she was definitely his type. Brunette, long-legged, and sophisticated. As if she’d been fashioned especially for him.
And she wanted on board the Scorpion.
He didn’t believe in coincidences.
Someone knew his tastes. Gold glinted at her ears, around the base of her slender throat, and around one wrist as she said pleasantly, “I’ll pay you many dirhams for a few minutes of your time.”
Nick glanced up, saw his own surly hirsute face reflected in her dark glasses, and said with icy disdain, “I have no need of your money.” Jesus. The foolish woman had no idea what she’d just interrupted. Or did she? Was she a ladybug fearlessly walking into the web of a deadly steppe spider? Or the spider herself? He looked her up and down. Slowly. “Unless you are willing to offer more than coin?”
Tamiz laughed. The other man at the table remained stone-faced.
She frowned, or possibly scowled. Hard to tell behind the big sunglasses. “I’ll give you my watch, it’s a—”
“You offer a watch when I suggest a fuck? I have no need of a woman’s watch. A woman? Possibly. When I have completed my business here. Wait for me at the Hotel Dar El Kebira, we can … talk there.”
Her expression didn’t change. “Your exchange rate is disproportionate to the request, Asim Nabi El Malamah,” she told him dryly. “It is, after all, merely a short trip. A miserly amount of your time. I’ll find other transportation.”
As long as she managed it tomorrow, Nick was okay with that. The Scorpion sailed from Tarfaya harbor at dusk tonight. “You do that.”
Her lips tightened. “I will. Gentlemen.” She nodded curtly to the others, then turned to leave.
Nick reached out and snagged her wrist. “If you should find a man stupid enough to transport you to the ship, be prepared to spread your legs for him. Make no mistake, your request will imply consent, Mademoiselle.”
Lips tight, she glanced pointedly from his fingers shackling her wrist back to his face. “I’ll take that under advisement.” Her expression read “Fuck you.” She turned and walked away.
Nick turned back to Najeeb Qassem. “My time is valuable, gentlemen.” He pushed away from the table, getting to his feet. “Meet my price, or you, too, must find another mule.”
*   *   *
“Son of a bitch!” Bria Visconti muttered under her breath as the dragonfly-sized helicopter landed with a jarring thump on the seemingly too small helipad on the upper deck of the Scorpion.
Nick Cutter’s boat—ship—was a megayacht, all gleaming white paint and shiny brass, and the size of a blasted football field. It was in the middle of nowhere between the Canary Islands and Madeira and pretty much in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Nothing for miles around but sparkling cobalt ocean and powder-blue skies.
Either Cutter had used the money—her family’s money—to help pay for this expensive toy, or he had other investors funding his expensive taste. One thing was blatantly, conspicuously evident: He had money to burn.
Peachy. That would make her job here much easier. Bria’s jaw ached from clenching her teeth for hours. She took a deep breath, relaxing the stress from her shoulders and jaw. She had a temper, and it had been simmering for days, but she was determined not to let it boil over. This could be handled in a civilized manner, and she was determined to be cool, calm, decisive, and above all—firm.
The trip from California on such short notice had cost her a small fortune, which she could little afford. She’d been unemployed for a year, and this trip had wiped out her meager savings. If she’d found someone to take her the short trip between Tarfaya and the Scorpion yesterday, she wouldn’t have had to spring for an expensive, last-minute flight from Tarfaya all the way to Las Palmas. Hiring this private helicopter to take her from the Canary Islands all the way the hell and gone out here in the middle of nowhere hadn’t been on the agenda either.
She’d been unhappy when she’d received the call at home in Sacramento, she’d been unhappy on her flight to Morocco, she’d gotten downright cranky when she’d realized that asking to be transported anywhere from Tarfaya without giving up an organ or her virtue was next to impossible. And she’d been pissed beyond belief yesterday when she’d realized that the Scorpion had sailed out of reach of any relatively inexpensive-to-hire motor launch.
So much for the tall, dark, and hairy Asim Nabi El Malamah who-would-do-anything-for-the-right-price. He hadn’t, he didn’t, and his laziness had cost her a lot of money. Jerk.
Each arduous, annoying step of this journey had ratcheted up her anger and frustration. She’d never met the man, but Nick Cutter was already a pain in her ass. At this point, Bria knew she’d be hard-pressed to be civil, let alone honey-sweet.
“Almost over,” she told herself. She smoothed her hair back neatly, tucking nonexistent wisps into the chignon at her nape before removing a small gold compact and lipstick from her tote. Her makeup was flawless, all she needed was a fresh swipe of kick-ass red gloss to boost her courage. One last look. She was good to go.
She’d taken off the headset the pilot had given her in Las Palmas and picked it up again as the rotors spun noisily overhead. She hooked the strap of her heavy tote over her shoulder, armed for battle. “You’re sure there’s no other ship with the name Scorpion?” She’d pictured a decrepit dive boat, not this multi-gazillion-dollar floating palace.
“Ask him,” the pilot said indicating a man in white T-shirt and shorts running toward the helicopter. He was bowed low to prevent being decapitated by the slowly spinning rotors. Nick Cutter? Bria’s heart did a little hop, skip, and jump.
“Espérame,” she instructed the pilot to wait in Spanish. “I will return shortly.”
“El viento empieza a soplar. No voy a esperar si mi helicóptero está en peligro, señorita.”
Oh, for—! Bria noticed the windsock thingy fluttering on a nearby pole; the wind was blowing, but it was hardly wild enough for concern, she was sure. “No pasará mucho tiempo,” she insisted.
She took the pilot’s grunt as a yes, he’d wait.
The middle-aged man in white popped open the door, then helped Bria down and pointed across the deck to a glass-walled atrium nearby. Bent almost double and trying to run on five-inch heels was a nifty trick. She was lucky she didn’t break a leg as they ducked under the still spinning blades.
Bria straightened and pushed open the glass door, looking around for a second to orient herself as the man shut it behind him. The noise of the helicopter abruptly cut off.
The vast room, surrounded on three sides by enormous windows, gave a panoramic view of nothing but flat water all the way to the horizon. A massive stone wall fountain—wall waterfall—taking up the entire far wall provided a pleasant ambient sound and reminded her she needed a bathroom.
She ran a light hand over the coil at her nape to make sure her hair hadn’t fallen out of the combs. It hadn’t. Double-checking was a nervous habit.
The room was elegantly, if austerely, furnished in white with touches of navy. Very “Give-me-something-clean-looking-not-fussy-money’s-no-object.” Sleek white canvas sofas and wavy chairs, glass and chrome, some interesting, but sparse, objets d’art here and there, and a highly polished, dark teak floor. Impersonal and expensive, and impossible to gauge the personality of the person who’d paid for it. The room was too modern for Bria’s tastes, but then she wouldn’t be staying long enough to care one way or the other.
Sunlight streamed through the windows, and she wished she hadn’t put her dark glasses away. But she wanted to appear sincere and open when she met Mr. Cutter.
Before leaving the hotel this morning, she’d exchanged the jeans and T-shirt she’d traveled in for a figure-skimming red sundress that showed off her bare arms, had enough cleavage to distract a man, and was short enough to display her long legs to advantage. Red-soled strappy black sandals with five-inch heels made walking on a slightly bobbing ship a bit problematic, but the killer heels accentuated the outfit to perfection.
Unless Nick Cutter was gay or blind, he was going to be putty in her hands.
The man who’d brought her inside crossed the room to her side. He was in his fifties, with ginger hair and a thick beard. His unwelcoming glare wasn’t in any way masked behind frameless glasses. “Is Mr. Cutter expect—” he began, just as she said, “I’m—”
“Principessa Gabriella Visconti,” a deep, vaguely familiar voice said from behind her.
Bria turned around slowly. She hadn’t heard the second man approaching although the floor was uncarpeted. Which was weird, because he was large and imposing, and seemed to suck up all the oxygen in the room by his very presence.
He was barefoot and half naked, wearing just the bottom half of a wetsuit. Diamond-like droplets of water sparkled in the dark hair on his sculptured chest, then ran in a straight, neat line down his flat belly to disappear under tight black neoprene.
The punch to her gut was completely unexpected. Bria had expected Nick Cutter to be in his late sixties at least. She’d pictured paunchy, dissipated. Gray hair if any. She’d pictured avuncular.
He was none of the above.
She noticed his dark hair and that he was tall, tanned, and had the long lean muscles of an athlete. She noticed the wet sheen on his skin, and the smell of salty male. But it was his striking, impossibly blue eyes that made Bria want to press her fist to the pterodactyls swooping in her tummy, and caused her breath to hitch. Testosterone poisoning, she diagnosed, feeling a little panicky.
And here she’d only brought determination and cleavage.
“You know who I am?” Please, Bria thought a little desperately, please don’t be Cutter. This man had his own gravitational field, complete with tractor-beam eyes. He had an almost visible aura of raw power kept on an incredibly tight leash.
He didn’t appear to be a man who’d be distracted by long legs or boobs. He looked like a man who had things to do and places to go, and she was an inconvenience. A not-that-interesting inconvenience.
“I read the papers,” he said smoothly in flawless Italian, maintaining eye contact. Okay. Not a boob man. “You’re extremely photogenic, Your Highness. Thanks, Blake,” he added in English, addressing the older man hovering beside her. “I’ll take it from here.” He turned those extraordinary blue eyes back to her, his expression set and coldly dismissive and not in the least welcoming nor interested.
“I’m Cutter. What can I do for you, Princess?” he asked coolly, switching back to Italian. A single drop of water snaked slowly down his bronzed bicep and she had to blink the conversation back into focus.
She wasn’t used to being called Princess. And she sure as hell wasn’t used to a man using that tone of voice when he spoke to her. She’d done nothing to earn his—what? Contempt? Scorn? Bria had no idea what lay behind his inscrutable expression. But she didn’t like it.
She waited until the other guy left the room. She heard his footfalls just fine, and her own as she tap-tap-tapped a few steps closer, hand extended. “English is fine, and call me Bria, please.”
His fingers, cool and still damp from his swim, closed over hers in a polite and brief handshake. Firm. Decisive. No lingering.
Her heart jolted in surprise. One look at his polite expression told Bria he clearly didn’t feel the sharp spike of electricity that she’d experienced when skin touched skin. Goose bumps rose on her arms. She took a small step back. A tactical retreat.
Fine. Cutter clearly wasn’t impressed, or charmed, or blinded by lust seeing her bare, red-polished toes in high heels. So be it. Bria’s tone changed slightly. “If you know who I am, then you know why I’m here.”
“If you’d sent word you wanted to observe the dive, I would’ve made arrangements for an overnight stay. Unfortunately, with a full crew, and a large dive team, that won’t be possible at this time.”
Dismissed. Again. Before she’d even made her pitch. This was getting old, fast. “I’m not here to observe you dive, Mr. Cutter,” she said with asperity. “Nor do I have the intention of spending any more time on board your ship than necessary.”
She indicated the waiting helicopter outside the window behind her. “I’m here for a refund.”
He gave her a bland look. “A refund?”
Bria felt her cheeks burn as her temper rose. Her temper was her Achilles’ heel, and she’d spent most of her life learning to control it. For seven short years she’d been a pampered princess in a fairytale land. Then she’d been ripped from everyone, everything she loved, and plunged into a terrifying nightmare that had changed her life forever. She’d learned to modulate her temper over the years. And because she considered it one of her worst faults, she did everything she could not to lose it. She should take lessons in self-control from Nick Cutter.
She’d faced far worse than a man telling her no. No matter what his tone. She gave him a cool smile, even though she had a creepy sensation that those piercing blue eyes saw everything she was. And everything she wasn’t. “My brother made a foolish investment. Before he throws good money after bad, I want the money he gave you returned to the country.”
Nick Cutter leaned his hip against the back of a white canvas sofa. His eyes moved over her, a bland inspection that gave nothing of what he was thinking away. “You’re the king’s business partner?”
Not partner, nor confidante. Barely even sister, as distant as she felt from him. Her cousin, Antonio, had had to tell her of Draven’s latest foolishness. “My brother made an error in judgment,” was all she said. One of many since he’d ascended to the Marrezo throne two years ago.
Bria ignored the familiar fluttery sensation of panic in her stomach. How she felt about her brother’s lack of financial sense was none of Nick Cutter’s business. “I’ve come to rectify his lapse.”
“Have you, indeed?” He pushed off the sofa back, one dark brow arched. “Let’s go belowdecks and discuss this in my office.”
Said the spider to the fly. She’d rather stay right where she was, sunlight streaming into the spacious room, the helicopter—her only means of transportation and already paid for round-trip—right where she could see it. “I’d pref—”
“I’m sure you’d like to freshen up before you head back to Las Palmas,” he said over her, autocratic as hell. “Wash up, have a cup of coffee, resolve this, and be on your way?”
She didn’t like taking orders. She didn’t enjoy being told what she’d like to do by the man who’d accepted five million dollars from the Kingdom of Marrezo’s coffers when he clearly didn’t need it. No matter how hot he was.
Bria didn’t get her reaction to him. She enjoyed guys. A lot. She liked their big hands, and big feet, and everything in between. She liked their tougher skin, and the smell of their cologne. She liked a nice tight butt as well as the next woman. She liked to lightly flirt, it made her feel like a woman. She liked men. Men liked her.
Nick Cold-as-Ice Cutter didn’t like her. And he annoyed the hell out of her.
A situation she didn’t appreciate.
Still, there was no need to be annoyed much longer, and an enormous sense of relief washed over her at his words. He was going to give her Draven’s money back. Thank God.
And even though she would’ve preferred ironing it all out here and now, now that he mentioned it, she remembered that she needed the restroom. Another lengthy trip in the helicopter without a pit stop would be impossible. She settled her tote on her shoulder. “Very well.”
Nick picked up the phone on a nearby table that also displayed a very phallic-looking statue in Carrera marble, an intricate bas-relief gold box, and a square glass vase filled with vivid red flowers. The only splash of color in the room other than Cutter’s disconcerting eyes.
He asked that Khoi come to the sundeck, then put down the phone to address her again. “My steward will show you where you can freshen up, then escort you to my office. Take your time.”
“I—”
Cutter didn’t wait to see what she had to say. He gave her a piercing look that made her heart pound in annoyance, then he strolled out of the room, giving her a tantalizing look at his long, tanned bare back, and tight-neoprene-covered butt.
Bria didn’t have time for lingering nor admiring. Not only did she have a helicopter waiting, she had to get her country’s money back where it belonged within thirty days, or the bank would own the principality of Marrezo, and the small country that used to be her home would revert to Italy. In addition, she had a new job to report to the following week. Taking her time was a luxury she couldn’t afford. “I’ve also got important things to do and places to go,” she told the empty room.
She planned to speed pee, locate Cutter’s office, accept a check, and be on her way back to Las Palmas within the next twenty minutes. She’d stop in Marrezo and give her cousin the money to bail out Draven’s coffers. Then she’d wing her way back to Sacramento and the prospect of a fabulous job, happy as a clam to be away from the mess her brother had created. Hopefully her cousin Antonio could manage to rein Draven in so he didn’t get involved with any more wild-hair-get-rich-quick schemes.
Treasure hunting! God, where had her brother come up with such a crazy idea?
The only person making money from her brother’s reckless “investment” was Nick Cutter.

 
Copyright © 2011 by Cherry Adair