Baiting the Boss

By: Coleen Kwan

She raised her voice. “Jack Macintyre? Is he here?”

A murmur broke out, accompanied by gesticulating hands pointing toward a cluster of huts nestled against the mountain slope. Grace breathed a small sigh of relief. At least she’d found the right island. As she trudged off the wharf with her suitcase bumping beside her, the children followed, giggling and nudging among themselves. She struggled up the dirt path, light-headed and nauseous from her journey, her shirt sticking to her back. Longing to collapse in the shade of a tree, she gritted her teeth and forged on.

She wouldn’t give up. For too long she’d wondered and daydreamed about Jack Macintyre, and now she was so close to finding him. What would he look like? Would he even remember her? Her breathing tightened. Over the years she’d thought a lot about Jack, but what if he’d completely forgotten her?

As she neared the crest of a hill, a beautiful young woman dressed in a red-and-white sarong appeared on the path. She stopped as soon as she saw Grace. “May I help you?”

Thank goodness, a responsible adult, Grace thought as she rested her suitcase. “Yes, I’m looking for Jack Macintyre’s place. Can you point me in the right direction?”

The young woman’s brows drew together. “You’re looking for Jack?”

Grace nodded, wiping the back of her forearm across her sweltering brow. “Do you know him?”

But the young woman only looked her up and down, still frowning while the children gathered round. Is she going to help? Grace wondered. The girl’s crisp reserve only made her feel more frazzled.

Just then, a figure striding along the path toward them caught Grace’s attention. The man was tall, dark-haired, tanned, and there was something deeply familiar about the way he moved. Her heart skittered, her nerves fizzling like water on a hot skillet. Only one man had ever had that effect on her. Only one man could make her brain seize as his long, easy gait ate up the distance between them.

Only one man, the man she’d been tracking down—Jack Macintyre.

Except he wasn’t the Jack she’d known three years ago. Back then he’d still been unfairly handsome with his windswept dark hair, gleaming gray eyes, and wicked smile, but now…now he was something else altogether—a well-built, broad-chested hunk of a man with a potent aura of testosterone as tangy as the smell of the sea. He even seemed taller than she remembered, which couldn’t be right. Maybe she was just awed by his appearance.

She eyed his ragged denim shorts, which clung to his muscular thighs, and his loose cotton shirt, unbuttoned halfway to the waist. The air shriveled from her lungs as she studied the wedge of bare chest revealed, his impressive abs glowing like caramel in the hot afternoon sun.

A chorus of babbles broke out from the children as Jack Macintyre drew up beside the group. He nodded at them before glancing at Grace.

“Hi, I’m Jack Macintyre.” His voice was as deep as she remembered. “Can I help you?”

He towered over her, his ebony hair tousled around his collar, his strong features chiseled and bronzed, his lips full yet firm at the same time. Finally she met his eyes, gray and restless as a stormy sea.

She gulped and took a quick breath. “Hello. I’m Grace Owens. You might not remember me, but—”

His head tilted a fraction. “Grace Owens. Of course.” He thrust out a broad hand at her, lifting his eyebrows. “How could I forget the most hard-working graduate I ever hired?”

Flushing slightly, she shook hands with him, remembering the first time she’d done so as a starstruck new recruit, and how lucky she’d thought herself to work for Jack Macintyre.

“You look a bit worse for wear.” He remained formal, not smiling. “Rough ride?”

She nodded and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth, all too aware of her rumpled hair coming loose from its ponytail, the creases and stains on her once spotless linen shirt and shorts, and the incomparable odor of fish and vomit lingering about her. What a fantastic way to meet the man she’d once had an enormous crush on. “I had a hard time getting a charter boat from Hiva. Only Wally seemed willing.”

Jack snorted. “That’s because he’s the only one crazy enough to make the crossing in this kind of weather. The storm’s closing in on us soon. You’re lucky not to be caught out at sea.” Grace glanced up at the clear skies. “Oh, it looks fine now,” he continued, “but out here the weather can change in fifteen minutes. You must have been pretty keen to get here.”

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