My elbows dug into the wooden railing. There was no doubt this room had the best view of the beach. The way the balcony jutted over the dunes made the view unobstructed. The shoreline was already busy this morning. Tourists loved this place. Their umbrellas and chairs planted in the sand, marking their territory. But this beach wasn’t theirs. They were only temporary. I knew there would be a new group in the morning. That’s how South Padre was—always changing.
I stood to take a sip of coffee and squinted under the sun. I peered at the tall hotels on my right. Sometimes it felt as if they were mocking me. Their steel and glass exteriors showcasing what a successful business venture should look like. I turned away. It was too late to turn this project around. Imagine what this view would be like from the top of one of those buildings. The price tag for this little piece of sandy real estate would sky rocket. I shook my head and walked back inside, sliding the door behind me.
I was a silent partner in the Dune Escape condo conversion. Every time I drove into town I regretted that part of the deal the most. I had agreed I would stay out of the daily minutia. Besides, I didn’t have time to micro-manage one condominium conversion.
I left my mug on the new granite countertop and headed to the bedroom to find my running shoes. Texas was blazing hot in August, but I could get a run in before the temperature hit one hundred.
I tossed my T-shirt back on the bed. It was too hot to consider more layers. I planted earbuds in my ear, tucked my phone in my pocket, and headed out the door.
I hit the sand under the Escape’s boardwalk. The new platform looked good. I didn’t like getting bogged down in construction details, but touches like this made a big difference. The motel had been around since the 1950s. It was an island eyesore until I rescued it.
I turned toward the hotels and started jogging near the wet sand where the waves retreated every few seconds. I nodded at a few girls sunbathing. It seemed early to be out, but I wasn’t complaining. A pretty girl in a bikini added to the view.
I was going on six months of bachelorhood. I had been single again about as long as I had been in a relationship.
The blonde waved at me, and I pushed forward.
Being single suited me. The relationship I had with Holly was fun. She liked to go out and have a good time, but I could see that look in her eyes. The one that said she wanted a promise from me. A promise we would be together. Forever. I wasn’t sure I was the kind of man who could make that type of commitment to any woman. Once I realized it was all she could think about, I knew I had to end it. I used the long distance as the reason. I didn’t need another lecture on my commitment issues. Breakups never ended happily. I learned that a long time ago.
It looked like the tide was going out. There was more beach under my feet. I cranked up the volume on my playlist and picked up the pace. The clumps of tourists were thicker on this part of the beach. The hotels were bringing them in faster than the sand castles were washed out by the waves on the beach. This is what we should have done with the Escape. We should have turned it into a hotel or condo rental that reached the sky. There was untapped money potential in that piece of land that I passed up just to try to stay in the good graces of the only bit of family I had—Caleb.
I felt the sweat run down my neck and the burn in my calves. Beach running wasn’t easy, but every time I was on the island I had to get it in. People told me I ran into challenges on purpose. I didn’t look at it that way. What was the point of doing something if I couldn’t prove I did it better than anyone else? Tackling challenges was my way of showing I could outmaneuver anyone in a boardroom. Outrun anyone on the beach, and out play anyone at life.
My phone beeped as a call interrupted the music.
Aggravated, I answered quickly. “Yeah. What is it Paul?”
“Good morning, sir. The financials are in for the Cove project. I sent them to you five minutes ago.”
“All right. Thanks for letting me know.” I stopped next to one of the hotel boardwalks so I could hear him better. The surf was loud.
Paul was the newest member of my staff. I hired him straight out of college. He was working on his MBA at night. I thought it showed he had goals. Some sort of drive. I didn’t want complacency on my team.
“Do you want me to tell them you’re going to make an offer?” He treaded lightly.
“I’d like to look over the report first,” I explained.
Paul was green. I had hoped he would pick up on the way I ran my business a little quicker. Maybe the grad studies would help. Financials came before an offer. That seemed fucking obvious to me.
“Right. That makes sense. Ok, well I’m in the office. Let me know what you want me to do next.”
“Paul—” I started to launch into a rundown on business concepts, but I was wasting my breath. “I’ll call you when I review the file.”
“Sounds good, sir. When do you think you’ll be back in the office?”
That was something else about him. He always wanted to know where I was. It wasn’t any of his damn business. “I’m in Padre for a few days. I hope to have my hands full here. What’s up?”
“Nothing, I just—we just were wondering if you would be back in the office soon.”
“You’ll know when I’m back. Anything else?” I exhaled.
“Thanks, Paul.” I clicked the call back to my music. I looked up at the sun. It was high enough to start making the beach unbearable. I pivoted in the sand and started running toward the Escape.
I jogged up the Escape’s new boardwalk and along the sidewalk into the office. It was no longer a one-room shack. It was an actual office for the condos. There was a display room and a clubroom where the residents could gather for social events. I insisted the only way they could draw in high-priced buyers was to offer something the rest of the island didn’t have.
I was pleased with the design they came up with. It was professional and elegant, a far cry from the tacky neon sign that used to blink in the window. It was a bonus the air conditioning worked. The old one rattled every time someone opened the door.
“Do you ever wear a shirt?” Lea walked out from her office.
“Good morning, sweetheart.” I never tired of bugging her. I knew I was a dripping, sweaty mess. “Promise I won’t sit on your new furniture.”
She rolled her eyes. “How thoughtful. I didn’t know you were in town.” She walked to the coffee machine and inserted a gourmet packet. There must have been fifty different flavors.
“Got in last night kind of late. I didn’t want to wake you,” I lied.
“Thanks. I tell Caleb all the time you’re capable of being considerate.” She retrieved her cup. “Coffee?”
I shook my head. “Nah. I’m going to grab some water.” I filled a plastic cup by the water cooler.
She settled on one of the couches in the clubroom. Her blond hair fell on either side of her neck. “What deal has you in town this time?” she asked.
“Actually that’s why I stopped by. Could you print a file for me? I need to look it over.”
“Sure. Send it to my email.”
I wouldn’t lie and say I wasn’t attracted to Lea. But she was marrying Caleb and from the start she only had feelings for him. He was a lucky bastard. She was beautiful and smart. Somehow, she had become part of my family unit. She was like a sister—make that more like a hot stepsister.
I sent the email from my phone and waited while she downloaded it to the printer. She returned from her office a few minutes later with a stack of papers in her hand.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Thanks.” I flipped through the sheets of numbers. “This is my next land acquisition.”
She threw a hand on her hip. “Tell me. What are you tearing up this time?” she pried.
“You know that trailer park at the other end of the island?”
Her eyes widened. “Yes. Conch Cove?”
I grinned. “That’s the one. I’m trying to get a bid in for the land today. It’s a private auction.”
She sighed. “Why do you insist on building a high-rise here?”
“First of all, I never said it was a high-rise.” She could read me like a book. “But more importantly, you keep forgetting I’m a developer. This is what I do. I buy. I build. I sell. I make a ton of money.”
“Sometimes I think you’re missing all the important things in life, Blake. There is more to Padre than money.”
“Just because you drank the Kool-Aid and decided to move here doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, girl.”
“You’ve never given this place a chance. All you see when you drive over the bridge is dollar signs.”
I smiled wickedly. “And a lot of them.”
“You’re completely impossible, Blake.”
I clutched the pages in my hand and walked toward the door. “Tell Caleb I’ll grab a beer with him before I leave.”
She sighed. “Buddy’s tonight for drinks?”
“Sounds good. Meet you two there.”
I shoved the glass door open. Today was going to be a good day. I had a new multi-million dollar project within reach again. That always made me happy.
I punched in Paul’s number on my way up the stairs.
“Go ahead and get the proposal started for the Cove bid. I’ll call back in a few minutes with hard numbers. Also, put in a call with our broker and tell them I want Ruth Rimerez at the table. She’s the best.”
“Yes, sir. Anything else?” he asked.
“Wait for me to call,” I instructed.
I hung up. I needed to take a shower and get dressed. I had a lunch meeting at noon with one of the commissioners to talk about my high-rise. It was critical to make sure the political climate in Padre was warm enough for the idea. I wasn’t about to spend millions if I couldn’t produce what I wanted.
I pulled a crisp white shirt from the closet. I had started leaving more clothes here each time I breezed into town. I was waiting for Lea to tell me this condo had sold and I needed to pack my closet full of stuff, but so far the priciest one in the mix hadn’t sold. It would happen. There were only five units still on the market.
I rinsed off and grabbed a towel from the rack. I wrapped it around my waist and walked to the kitchen. The Cove numbers were spread across the bar. If I was right about this, it could be my most lucrative beach project to date.
I jotted down a few figures and did some quick math. There was no way I wasn’t going to throw my name in the ring for this one. I had been watching the island real estate for months. The timing was right. I pulled out my phone.
“Paul, I’m sending over my instructions. Put the numbers in exactly as I have them. Got it?”
“Yes, sir. I can do that. I’ll call you when I get the bid together,” he stammered. I wished he sounded more confident.
“Did you get in touch with the broker?”
“Yes. Ruth is on her way to South Padre now.”
“Sounds good. I’ll be waiting.”
I typed out my email to Paul and hit send.
A few minutes later I closed the condominium door behind me, spun the combination on the lock, and jogged down the stairs. If it wasn’t so damn hot I would pull the top back on my car, but this was an AC day—a scorcher even by Texas standards. I cranked the engine and peeled out of the parking lot. I wanted to run by the trailer park before lunch.
I slammed the car door behind me and stepped onto the gravel. This was one rundown trailer park, but I smiled knowing I was standing on a goldmine.
Half the campers were rusted from years of salty winds. Weeds struggled to grow through the sand. The picnic tables under the pavilion had more splinters than smooth spots. It looked like there used to be a swing set next to the charcoal grills, but all that was left was a cracked yellow slide. It was a dump.
This little tract of land was at the opposite end of the island from where the Escape stood. It was littered with trailers, campers, and dissembled Jeeps. Beach towels blew on a clothesline rigged between two boats. I walked toward the dunes.
I could see it. This was going to be the Texas beach resort destination. It wouldn’t be like the others on the island, shuttling college kids in and out through a revolving door. It would have year-round high occupancy numbers. A spa. A five-star restaurant. I would develop it and after a year of being the premiere vacation spot I would sell it at the top of the market. Yes, this was going to be the fucking deal of a lifetime.
I heard a throat clear behind me.
I turned to see a girl trying to tie brunette locks back into place. The wind was fierce at this end of the island. She stopped fidgeting with her hair clip and sunglasses.
“I’m looking for Frank Royce. Do you know where he lives?” She pulled on the shoulder strap of her bag as if it gave her extra support. “I’ve knocked on at least ten doors.”
She was wearing heels that were slowly starting to sink into the sand. She wobbled slightly and I lunged forward to help her before she lost her balance, but she waved me off.
“Do you know him?” she asked.
“Can’t say that I do.” I smiled.
She didn’t fit in here. There was an airiness about her that contradicted the worn out buildings surrounding us. Her smile was bright, and I couldn’t help but notice her full lips. My eyes traveled to her breasts. Perfect, perky voluptuous tits. Damn.
“Do you live here? Maybe I could ask you a few questions instead.”
I shook my head. “No. Not me.” Did she seriously mistake me for a resident? I was wearing a two thousand-dollar suit.
She looked disappointed. “Are you visiting someone maybe?”
“No, I don’t know anyone here.” I kept my answers short.
“Well, I guess I need to find Mr. Royce then. All these trailers look the same.”
I surveyed the trailer park. She was right. There wasn’t much to distinguish one from the other. “I’m headed back to my car over there. Why don’t I walk with you until you find Mr. Royce?”
“That’s all right. I can find him.” She adjusted her shoes in the sand again.
I shrugged. “Good luck, then.”
I walked past her, descending from the dunes. I had seen enough to know I had to make this deal work. I didn’t know who else was bidding today, but I wanted this tract.
Opportunities like this seldom landed in my lap. The land had fallen out of probate after the owner died. He left it to his niece and nephew, but they had no interest in managing a trailer park. Lucky for me, they were ready to cash in their inheritance.
“Wait,” she called. “Do you know anything about the development of this land?”
I turned to face her. She was struggling with her hair again. It was hard to ignore how pretty she was. A natural beauty that sort of glowed around her. But I didn’t have time for distractions. I had to get the contract signed.
“Are you a reporter or are you with the group out of Houston?” I asked, but it was more of an accusation.
“I don’t know the group from Houston. I’m Alyson Covington. I write for the News & Report. The online edition,” she added.
“Ahh. That explains a lot.” I was slightly relieved she wasn’t part of the competition. I’d rather keep my interest under the radar. But a reporter was nearly as bad.
“Such as?” She pushed.
“Such as why a pretty girl like you would be hanging out in a place like this.” I smirked.
Her lips flattened into a line of disapproval. “You have something against trailer parks?”
I stepped forward. “Did I say that?”
“It was implied.”
I chuckled. “Sounds like you practice interpretative journalism, Miss Covington.”
“Interpretative? Wow. Sounds like you just like to label people.” She wobbled on her heels.
I laughed. She was surprisingly quick with the retort.
“Good luck finding your story.” I continued toward my car. I tossed my keys in the air.
She trailed behind a few paces, trying to keep up in her heels. “And you aren’t going to tell me who you are? Which company do you work for? You must be a part of the development deal. Wouldn’t you like to comment?”
“There you go again interpreting.” I used the remote to unlock the door.
She kicked her hip to the side. Damn, she had a perfect hourglass shape. “You’re driving a sports car in a trailer park, wearing nice clothes. A suit. You don’t know anyone here, and you’re not visiting. This piece of land is in the midst of a bidding war. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume you might be a part of that.”
I opened the car door. “Looks like you might be on to something. Very Nancy Drew of you.”
“Would you like to make a statement on the land development? Do you know how many families are going to be displaced because of this?” She continued her interrogation.
I rolled down the window. “I never said I was a part of your story, Miss Covington.”
She huffed. “I’m not that green.”
“How green would you say you are?” I shoved the key in the ignition. “You know on a scale of zero to ten. Maybe a two?” I pressed the center of my sunglasses between my eyes. I could rake her over more easily with my eyes shielded. I stared at her tits and legs.
My question seemed to irritate her more. “I graduated in May from Radford University at the top of my class. I have plenty of experience as a reporter.”
I nodded, impressed with her credentials. “Good school. And you ended up down here? Sorry about that. Maybe I’d elevate you to a level three then.” I cranked the radio to drown out the rest of her questions. “Nice meeting you, Miss Covington. Good luck with your story.” I put the car in drive.
“Wait. What’s your name?” She walked next to me as I circled an open spot to turn around.
I pretended not to hear her and pulled out of the gravel lot. She grew smaller in the mirror. Her face furrowed in frustration. Her hair still unmanageable.
One of my policies was never talk to the press. It was a damn shame though, because that member of the press was possibly the most gorgeous reporter I had ever met.