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Private Charter by N.R. Walker (1)

Chapter One

Stuart Jenner

I needed this. I was burnt out. Stressed, exhausted. My mind was no better than mush. I’d busted my arse to close my last deal, and at six twenty-five on Friday afternoon, I walked out of my office pumped for my much-needed holiday.

Twelve days of sun, surf, sailing, swimming, and a whole lot of sex.

I pulled out my phone with every intention of calling Jason, but it rang in my hand. My boss’s name flashed up on screen. Gerard Soto. I wasn’t even out of the damn building. I gritted my teeth and hit Answer. “You’ve reached the answering machine of Stuart Jenner. Please leave a message.”

“Nice try, Jenner.”

I rolled my eyes, but I stopped walking. If he needed to see me, I’d only have to turn around and go back. And, as much as I hated it, we both knew I would. “Boss. What can I do for you?”

“Signed off on the Goodridge account?”

“Of course I did.”

“And the Washington prelims?”

“Contract’s with legal. I hand delivered it to Browning myself.”

“Mmm” was his only response. Then, “And I assume your full monthly report is on my desk.”

A full month report for half of which I wouldn’t be there. “Of course it is.”

There was a reason I was one of the best corporate finance senior analysts in Brisbane. So good, in fact, that when headhunters from Sydney and Singapore tried to lure me away, my boss offered me an incredibly lucrative offer to stay. Stay I did, which is why he now owned me. So when he called, I answered. When he asked, I delivered.

I had no doubt he knew the report was filed before he even asked. Soto played little egomaniac games like that. “What time are you leaving tomorrow?”

He was really asking how late he could call me. I unclenched my jaw and put a smile on my face, even though he couldn’t see it. “My flight leaves at six thirty tomorrow morning.” I looked at my watch. Twelve hours.

“And you won’t be contactable?” he asked. Again.

“No. No phone service, no internet.” That wasn’t technically true. I would have some limited access, but he didn’t know that. “There will be a satellite phone for emergencies. I can get you the number if you need.”

“Mmm, no, that won’t be necessary,” he added flatly. I only offered because I knew damn well he wouldn’t want to call a satellite phone for what was no doubt a menial question. “Well, then…”

“Okay, I’ll see you on the twenty-seventh.”

“Right. Yes. I suppose I should wish you a good vacation.”

I almost laughed at his compassion. “Thank you.”

“Come back well-rested.”

That sounded almost like a threat.

“That’s the plan.”

He mumbled something that sounded like a goodbye, and the line went dead. I took a few deep breaths, trying to keep my blood pressure in check, though the thumping in my temples told me it was pointless. I kept my phone in my hand, slung my messenger bag over my shoulder, and took the elevator down to the basement car park. The heat and humidity of Brisbane in February weren’t particularly pleasant in a suit, but I didn’t care.

I had two weeks off. Two whole weeks.

Two weeks at my doctor’s insistence, but a holiday nonetheless.

Overworked, over-stressed, and over the rat race, that’s what I was. I was thirty-four and headed for a massive heart attack, she’d warned. “You need a break, and you need one now.”

I took the vacation time but left out the medical push behind it. Gerard Soto didn’t need to know his golden boy was starting to show fault lines. Or maybe stress fractures would be a more apt description.

I slid in behind the wheel of my car, popped my phone into its cradle, and started the engine. As soon as I was out of the car park and away from layers of concrete and steel, I hit Bluetooth. “Call Jason.”

His number came up and it rang, and rang, and rang. I hit End Call before it went through to his voice mail. Maybe he was stuck at work or at the gym or in the shower… Hopefully he was already packed to leave and on his way to my place.

I tried him again as I stepped out of the elevator at my apartment, and again, no answer.

Great.

I smiled at my packed bag as I tore off my suit and, deciding on a cool shower, let the water wash away the shitty day. And as I dressed in some casual shorts and a T-shirt, I was already in holiday mode.

The original plan was for me to pick Jason up before heading to the airport in the morning, but I wondered if he might like to stay here tonight. We could order in his favourite Chinese, watch a movie, go to bed early

If he would answer his damn phone.

I tried again, still no answer. My plans for a relaxing, easy night for two became a sad and lonely night for one. I rummaged around my kitchen to make myself some dinner; I’d not ordered any new groceries because I was going away, and I couldn’t be arsed ordering in for one, so I settled on a very depressing bowl of cereal for dinner. Nothing on TV held my interest, and after I spent an hour flicking back and forth through stupid channels, I sent Jason a text.

Pick you up at 5am. Be out the front. Need me to send you a wake-up call?

I smiled as I hit Send. He was never fully operational at that time of day.

A bubble appeared, signalling he was replying. Then it disappeared, then reappeared, then disappeared, and I was frowning at my phone when it rang. It was Jason, and I knew this wasn’t going to be a good phone call.

“Hey,” he started. “Um.”

“Just say it, Jason,” I said, not caring to keep the bite from my tone. It was crazy how easily I could slip into professional shark mode. All business and zero tolerance for bullshit.

Music played and people talked in the background. So he was out somewhere, and he had absolutely no intention of coming with me tomorrow. Now I wondered if he’d ever intended to come with me in the first place.

“Well, you see,” he said, “I can’t go. Something came up at work and I only found out yesterday. I tried sorting it out today so I could get away, but you know how these things go.”

The funny thing is, I did know. We worked in the same industry. I knew exactly how it went. I also knew exactly how Jason operated. “Well, I hope he’s worth it.”

There was a muffled sound followed by his silence, though the music still played. “It’s not really like that.”

“I get it,” I said coolly. “Next time someone offers you an all-expenses-paid two-week holiday, try giving them some notice so they can replace you. Because you are replaceable.” I could have asked any of my casual hook-ups if they wanted to come with me. Jason was normally fun to hang with and we got on okay. Though we’d rarely spent more than one night together at any given time, and maybe two weeks alone on a sailboat would be a bit much, but dammit, he could have said no when I asked.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, but work

“It’s fine. I’ll see you around.”

I didn’t wait for his reply. I ended the call and threw my phone on the coffee table. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I wasn’t ringing around my hook-up list to ask if any of them could get two weeks off work and oh, by the way, we’re leaving at six o’clock tomorrow morning

Fuck.

Well, that just took the ‘whole lotta sex’ out of the sun, sailing, swimming equation I had planned for my holiday.

Right, then. I considered taking the two boxes of condoms out—because what was the point?—but decided to keep them. With a bit of luck, when we docked into port at a few of the holiday towns, there might be some nightclubs. I considered googling the gay bar scene in Far North Queensland, but I’d just thrown my phone across the coffee table and I couldn’t be arsed getting up.

Fuck Jason for messing me around and for ruining my holiday before it even began.

It was settled. I was going on a hired yacht for two weeks around the Great Barrier Reef in tropical North Queensland by myself. Just me and the skipper. If he was some crusty old dude who never shut up, I’d just throw myself overboard. Or if it was some middle-aged woman who never shut up, I’d throw myself overboard. Or maybe pretending to suffer chronic seasickness and needing to fly home would be less dramatic. At least the skipper was LGBT friendly—they advertised as such—so that was one less worry.

But goddammit. I was going on this holiday, and I was going to lie in the fucking sun and relax. I just hoped the skipper of the yacht was a nice person, because for the next twelve days, twenty-four hours a day, it was just going to be nothing but me, them, and a whole lotta ocean.

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