Pawn’s Excerpt

PAWN – Rook’s Island Series Book #2

All RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017. Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

PROLOGUE

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, you know. Such a fucking mess. But I should’ve guessed this was coming. Because when life becomes nothing but should-haves, there is no other possible outcome. My big sister, Cici, should’ve come home from her exotic island vacation four months ago. My father should’ve told me that Mr. Rook, the owner of the resort, came to see him with the news that Cici had drowned, instead of leaving me in the dark. I should’ve known better than to borrow money from a very dangerous man in order to fund my search for her. There are so many should-haves that I’m sick to my stomach with remorse.

But by far, my biggest regret is the moment I stepped foot on this island. Because once I set eyes on the devastatingly handsome Mr. Rook, I couldn’t stop myself from wanting him, from dreaming about him, from feeling drawn to the connection between us. I know it’s wrong.

Nothing good will come of it.

Because now I’m beginning to believe that Cici didn’t die drunk, swimming in the middle of the night. Just like I suspect that this past week with Rook—the touches, the forbidden kisses, the sexual hunger in his steel blue eyes—was an elaborate hoax meant to distract me.

Because he’s not just a wealthy businessman.

This island is no paradise.

And I’m no fucking idiot.

So while resisting this man will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I will find out what really happened to my sweet Cici. Otherwise I won’t ever be able to let her go, and my broken heart will be the end of me.

My name is Stephanie Fitzgerald. I am twenty-six years old, London born, New York raised, and I am the newest employee of Mr. Rook’s Island, where “your fantasy is our business.”

CHAPTER ONE

“Miss Fitzgerald, please see me in my private office after the meeting,” Mr. Rook growled as he blew into the conference room like an angry storm.

My stomach curdled. It was my first day on the job, and while I hadn’t expected him to be overjoyed by my presence, the outright hostility was a surprise. At least, this early in the game.

“For?” I asked, masking my uneasiness in front of the strange faces around the long gray table. I could only assume the resentful stares belonged to Rook’s senior staff, though I’d only arrived thirty seconds before him, and we’d all yet to be introduced.

And I see we’re off to a great start. These people would be reporting to me—the woman who’d been just another guest last week.

And exactly why had I asked for the executive manager’s job at the end of my trip? Simple. I needed a reason to stay. I needed to be in a position of trust. I needed to find answers, something I wouldn’t be getting from the beautiful conniving man who’d built this exclusive resort, where their claim to fame was that they could make any woman’s fantasy come to life. From what I’d seen, that part was true, though most guests just wanted to romp with a male character from the latest movies—Mr. Grey, Aquaman, Thor—or the timeless heroes born to the classics like Darcy, Tarzan, or Captain Hook. And for a hefty price, ranging from fifty thousand to a million bucks, Rook’s Island could deliver. They had every set and prop imaginable to create the ultimate fantasy vacation experience, including submarines, a pirate ship, and a Scottish castle. I’d even heard they had a cityscape—for the CEO/billionaire fantasies—and a cattle ranch complete with a hot cowboy who gave naked riding lessons.

Different strokes, I suppose.

But what interested me most wasn’t the hot men or the exotic sex. It was the stuff Rook kept hidden. I’d witnessed enough to know that there was way more to this place than he’d let on, and I guessed those secrets had something to do with Cici’s death.

How or why?

Not sure. But Mr. Rook, the master of illusions, had gone to great lengths last week to distract me, to make me believe that Cici’s death was accidental. He’d soothed my grief over the loss of a sister who’d been more like a mother. He’d held me and told me how sorry he was for not preventing it. He almost made love to me.

I won’t be played again.

“Miss Fitzgerald, are we interrupting your daydreaming?” Rook snarled in his neatly pressed, black linen suit, gray button-down shirt, and pale blue tie that matched his nearly translucent eyes. The stunning bastard of a man wore his costume well.

Sitting across from him at the head of the table, I forced my gaze to his angry, handsome face and tried not to lose my shit on the first day.

I cleared my throat and forced a smile on my face. “Yes, of course, Mr. Rook. I will come see you after the meeting.”

He gave a curt nod with his head of thick dark hair. “And since you have managed to steal the attention of my staff, why don’t you introduce yourself—not that we don’t already know who you are.”

With my hair pulled into a ponytail and dressed in my last clean outfit, a lavender T-shirt and denim short-shorts, I stood from my chair. “Hi, everyone,” my voice squeaked.

Wow. Nice. While I would generally describe myself as average—average confidence, average wavy brown hair and brown eyes, and average five-four height—I felt like an above average moron for thinking I could pull this off. I didn’t belong here. Not as a guest and certainly not as an employee. They had to see that.

Despite my fear of everyone catching on, I raised my chin. “I’m Stephanie Fitzgerald. Obviously, you’re all aware that I was a guest last week, thus my informal outfit. Fortunately, however, I’ll be wearing a uniform soon, since Mr. Rook has generously offered me the position of executive manager.” As I said those words, I realized that the seated people around the table, save Rook, might’ve had their sights on the role after Mrs. Day, the prior manager, had been fired.

That explains the hostility.

“And why don’t you share your background with us, Stephanie? Tell us what made you want to take on such a demanding position.” Rook’s tone oozed of condescension like he wanted to make a fool of me.

Of course he does. Like the staff, he didn’t want me here. Likely because he knew I couldn’t care less about his fucking paradise, nor did I buy his story about Cici. She had been far too responsible to get drunk and take off for a night swim in the ocean like Rook said. He’d only agreed to give me the job because he’d promised to do “anything” to help me move past my sister’s tragic death and get my life back on track.

My gaze traveled over the expectant faces around the table, all twenty-something men and women of a variety of ethnicities—black, white, Latino, and Asian. Rook had a very diversified crew, which made sense. They served anyone with money—okay, any woman with money—and that meant they needed to cater to a variety of clients, albeit primarily Americans from what I’d seen. My guess was that he limited his exposure this way. His customers only came from countries where he had influence. Influence to keep his island a secret.

Not for long.

“I think what you’re all really wondering is what makes me qualified to help run this resort. Great question.” Still standing, I planted my hands on the table like I owned the damned place. They had to believe I belonged. “I’ve just spent one week sampling the food, interacting with the staff, and observing the engagement processes with the guests. I’m not going to lie, everyone here does an impeccable job—the attention to detail, the welcoming atmosphere, and the quality of the experiences you provide. But I did see room for improvement, and it should be every business’s primary goal to pursue perfection. That, my friends, takes a set of fresh eyes.”

“So you think you’re qualified because you can point out all of the things they’ve done wrong?” Rook asked with a sadistic smirk on his lips.

Poke away, jerk. You’re not going to rattle my cage. I wasn’t leaving this dump until I got what I came for. The truth. Possibly revenge. No, definitely revenge.

“Mr. Rook,” I chuckled sweetly, “I would never diminish the hard work these people obviously put in to running your resort. I am simply saying that I can help take great to the next level, even though I am sure I have a lot to learn about how things are done around here. For example, who is responsible for the husband harem?” I looked around the table, and a woman with short blonde hair and a thin frame, likely in her mid-thirties, raised her hand. She wore a blue and white Hawaiian-style shirt, as did all of the employees on the island. I assumed I’d soon be getting my own fancy uniform, too.

“I’m in charge of the harem,” she said with a bite.

“And what’s your name?” I asked.

“Linda?” she replied.

No, it wasn’t a question. But I could tell by her tone that she expected me to ridicule her, though I had no intention of making enemies of the staff. I needed them to trust and like me. I needed them to tell me everything they knew about this place and its owner.

“Great. Linda,” I said, “I’m sure you are aware that I was mistakenly brought to the harem last week.” The husband harem was this enormous extravagant tent filled with stunningly hot, naked men who had sex with the guest of honor. I had been brought there by mistake when one of the new employees mixed me up with another guest.

“Yes, I heard,” she said, shifting in her leather exec chair.

“Well, it was an honest mistake,” I said. “But it was one that gave me an opportunity to see what an incredible job you do controlling quality. I mean, wow.” I fanned my face. “There wasn’t one man in that harem who wasn’t a specimen of male perfection.” They were ripped, tan, and hung—perfect tens. Of course, no man compared to Rook. The perfect lines of his strong jaw, the sensual lips, the tall lean muscular body with broad shoulders. His thick dark hair and stunningly pale eyes made him seem more like a Greek god rather than a mere mortal who owned an island of dark secrets.

Linda’s expression lightened. “That’s why the harem is our favorite fantasy. The tent is booked every operationally active day of the year.”

“And that’s my point. We need another one. It’s just that good. And clearly the guests love it, so I assume we’re turning away requests. I’d like to see a plan from you to add a second tent, including timing for staffing.” I had to believe that finding the right kind of men wouldn’t happen overnight. Those guys—or fantasy hosts, as they were called here—were like a collection of fine wines that could only be acquired over time with the utmost care.

I smiled at Linda and could tell by the proud flicker in her brown eyes that I’d won her over. One down.

“As for what else qualifies me,” I said, “I have a master’s in international relations from NYU, and have worked at the New York City Chamber of Commerce for the past three years. I can bring perspectives on emerging cultural trends as well as insights about the categories of businesses flourishing globally.

“The world is shrinking,” I planted my index finger onto the table, “and for this island to keep up, we’ll need to look ahead. We should be tapping into other markets and diversifying our fantasy offerings. We need to know which economies are growing fastest and have women with the most disposable income. China, for example. What do their wealthiest women want? Emperors? Dragons? Both? We should start—”

“All great points, Miss Fitzgerald,” Rook cut in with a snarl, “but this is my island. I decide who we market to and what fantasies we offer.”

Still nervous as hell on the inside, I arched a brow and offered Rook a bitchy little smirk, not breaking character. “Then I guess I’ll have to get you alone in a room and bring you around to my way of thinking. How’s after this meeting?”

Rook’s eyes sizzled with anger. Evidently, he didn’t appreciate the fact that his efforts to intimidate me weren’t working. Or maybe it was the sexual undertone of my comment and the fact I was acting like his boss.

Good. I’m here to fuck with your head, Rook. Every minute of every day until I got what I wanted. Luckily, I’d spent this last week learning from the pro. Him.

“Take a seat, Miss Fitzg—”

“Stephanie. Call me Stephanie. I don’t care for formality. It’s old-fashioned and doesn’t foster candid conversations, which is something I expect from all of you.”

The expressions around the table were a mixture of smirks and “oh boy, this is gonna get ugly.”

Rook cleared his throat. “Formality and rules are what maintain standards of quality, Miss Fitzgerald. I suggest you get used to it.”

I took my seat, neatly folded my hands on the table, and prepared to poke the bear with a hot branding iron.

“I am all too familiar with your rules.” I scoffed. “But I assumed after last week, they had some room for bending.”

Rook’s face visibly heated to the precipice of outright rage—flat lips, red cheeks beneath his thick dark stubble, and a slight flare to his perfect nostrils on his perfect fucking nose.

Oh no. Did “Miss Fitzgerald” cross the line?

As for the “rule,” he knew exactly what I meant. It was the one about keeping his glorious dick in his tailored linen pants. Because he wasn’t just the owner of the island. Oh no, not even close. And his secret was the kind of bizarre, unbelievable bullcrap I had yet to digest because it made no sense and never would. According to him, the man sitting before me in his fine suit was a façade created for the sole purpose of protecting this island from the outside world with a fortress of cash. According to him, this was sacred ground. As for why he’d been burdened with the responsibility of being its caretaker, well, that was one more unbelievable morsel. This island used to be home to a group of monks, and he was the last.

No, that wasn’t a fucking joke. You just can’t make this stuff up. The callous, well-dressed man sitting before us was a monk.

How he came up with the idea of having a resort that provided sexual fantasies to women, I couldn’t understand. Religious people didn’t run brothels—not that this island was a whorehouse, but, at the end of the day, the principles were the same. Women came here for pleasure, albeit expensive and packaged as an elaborate “fantasy getaway,” but it wasn’t the sort of thing a monk or church would condone. Regardless, Rook still had his “rules,” and that meant no sex. Not ever. Yet it hadn’t stopped him from trying last week. Luckily, we were interrupted. And I’ll never let him touch me again.

I’d come to my senses since then.

Rook’s expression relaxed, like he’d willed himself to gain control. “You’re mistaken, Miss Fitzgerald. My rules are for obeying and so am I. Which is something you and I will discuss after the meeting.” He turned his attention to the room, effectively shutting me down. “Now, as for the topics we need to discuss…”

Rook went on about the cleanup efforts on the island and asked each person to give updates on their particular areas of responsibility. A hurricane had rolled through two days ago, and they’d had to evacuate the guests—I stayed behind, of course. Anyway, the rain and winds had moved on yesterday, and now everyone was working to restore services, make repairs, and restock any supplies that had been ruined. All in all, however, Rook had made this place hurricane proof.

An hour later, Rook began wrapping up. “Obviously, we are in no state to welcome guests this week, but please plan on having a full planeload next Monday. Stephanie will be shadowing each of you, learning the ropes. I will be at your disposal if you need anything.” Rook rose from his chair. “That’ll be all.”

The employees stood and shuffled from the room, busily jotting on notepads or chatting on their walkie-talkies.

I remained seated, mentally preparing myself for battle.

“Ready for that meeting?” I said cheerfully.

Rook waited for the room to empty. Once it did, he drew a slow, chilling breath that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, all of them waving little black flags. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, Stephanie, but I assure you, it won’t be tolerated.”

So we’re using first names again now that we’re alone, huh?

I leaned back in my chair, crossed my arms, and hunkered down. He couldn’t see me sweat. I had to convince him I was here to do my job and do it well.

“Oh, now, James. You agreed to hire me, knowing full well what you were getting. So don’t tell me you’re thinking of backing out of our agreement or that you’re intimidated by a strong woman.” I tsked. “I thought you were the secure type.”

He let out a venomous laugh. “I’ve yet to meet a secure man who tolerates blatant insubordination.”

“I was only making suggestions, James. A girl is entitled to her opinion, isn’t she?”

“You are no girl. And you are entitled to nothing. Not on my island. These are my employees and you will—”

I jerked to my feet and slapped my hands on the table. “I will remind you that my sister died on your island due to your negligence. I will remind you that I’m here because you offered—no, you begged—to help me move on. Well, this is me, Rook, moving on. So if that costs a few bruises to your precious ego, then so fucking be it. But don’t ever belittle me, or try to make me look stupid for having an opinion.”

His large body tensed, and I was sure that if I’d been standing next to him, he’d be dragging me out of the room by my hair for a good old-fashioned flogging. No, not a joke. That was how I’d found out about him being a monk. I’d caught him in the jungle, naked in the rain, beating the hell out of his back as penance for almost fucking me. The man was old school when it came to punishments.

“I will do as I please, Miss Fitzgerald,” he said in a menacingly low tone. “If it does not suit you, you may—”

“Will you really? Do as you please? Because last I remember, you couldn’t work up the nerve. Then you left me hanging.” I tilted my head to the side, beginning to feel genuinely riled up as memories of that night filled my head. The heat of his skin against mine. His hands on my bare breasts. The head of his thick cock nudging at my entra—

Jesus, Steph. Clearly, I was losing control. And from the way his stubbled jaw flexed and those icy blue-gray eyes narrowed on my lips, I was sure his anger was being replaced by something else, too.

Crap. Get a hold of yourself. I would accomplish nothing if I started falling for him again. Or got kicked off the island prematurely. But this was a sticky game I was playing: pushing Rook to trust me. He had to see that I was just as fierce as he was when it came to protecting this island. He had to believe that I would fight for what was best, even if it pissed him off. There was no other way.

I sat slowly and turned on the demure Stephanie. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that,” I said with fake remorse, staring at the table. “I know you have…a unique set of circumstances. And that you weren’t cruel to me on purpose.”

Really, I didn’t know anything aside from the fact that he’d used every trick in the book to distract me last week so I wouldn’t dig into Cici’s death. I guessed he also didn’t want me to notice all of the strange things going on in the place. But now that I thought about it, even the guest check-in process was a red flag. They actually took saliva samples upon arrival, telling us it was an STD test—“merely a precaution.” I’d bought it. Now I didn’t. Saliva swabs were normally for DNA tests.

But why?

I looked at Rook from across the room, where he remained standing and keeping his distance. I wondered if it was because I’d pissed him off or because his lust for me hadn’t entirely been an act. Penises don’t lie, and his had been ready.

I continued with my performance. “I don’t know if it’s because this island is where Cici died and being here makes me feel close to her again, but I feel a special connection with this place. I want to stay here—I need to stay here—but I’d also like for you to be happy with my work, James. That said, if you don’t want me here, then put me on the first plane home.” Of course, there was no way in hell I’d be leaving. I banked on the fact that he suspected I knew more than I’d let on and that letting me loose in the world wouldn’t serve to keep his island a secret from the masses.

His eyes stuck to my lips for a long, conspicuous moment before snapping back to meet my gaze. “If you do not change your attitude, I won’t hesitate.” He walked past me, pausing in the doorway. “And you will refer to me as Mr. Rook.”

Whatever floats your lying-ass boat. “Okay, Mr. Rook.”

“I need to take care of something. I will send for you when I’m ready for our talk. In the meantime, I suggest you find a way to make yourself useful. We have guests arriving in a week.”

He left the room, and I collapsed on the inside, my nerves hammering at the walls of my sour stomach. Fucking hell. How am I going to get through this? I planned to ruin this man for whatever he’d done to my poor sister, but being in the same room with Rook made me lose my mind.

Of course, maybe I wasn’t the only one suffering from unwanted emotions. Rook had just bailed on our little meeting and fled the room to “take care of something.” I wondered if that something was between his legs.

Suddenly, the image of him doing just that invaded my mind—his head thrown back in ecstasy, his large hand wrapped around his thick shaft, stroking vigorously. A wave of unwelcome pulses shot between my legs.

“Crap.” I let out a long, calming breath and scrubbed my hands over my face. I’d have to work fast and get the hell out of here. Because staying in control around Rook was going to be harder than I’d thought.

BACK TO PAWN PAGE