The Boss and Her Billionaire
by Michele de Winton
Cruise director Michaela Western has everything she wants—everything except a sex life. But there are no secrets on cruise ships. She risked her job once for a dalliance with the Captain, and won’t do it again for a few minutes of toe-curling pleasure. Until a devilishly handsome new staffer with a body made for sin tempts her to walk on the wild side…
Investment billionaire Dylan Johns always gets what he wants. He is used to giving orders—not taking them—until he’s forced to go on hiatus from his investment company. To bide his time and carry out an old dream, he takes a job on a cruise ship—and ends up taking orders from his gorgeous, but frigid, new boss. He is determined to loosen her up with a fun onboard romance, but their no-strings fling turns serious and Dylan is forced to confess his lies.
When the affair threatens to shatter Michaela’s own career dreams, she finds herself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
© 2012 Michele de Winton
“We’re clear then? I want this mess with the all equity rate cleared up by close of business Friday. We can’t be seen to be letting things slide just because the dollar is a little fragile. I don’t want to hear any more excuses.”
No one spoke or met his eye, and Dylan Johns let loose a grim smile. He resorted to threats and intimidation more and more often these days. Maybe he needed a holiday.
“Great. What’s next?”
“Excuse me, sir?” Dylan’s assistant must have been listening at the door, waiting for the pause. “There’s someone in your office for you.”
“Not now. We’re in the middle of—”
“Sorry, sir, I think you’ll want to take this.”
Dylan looked up. His assistant had been with him for three years and knew this meeting had been booked for over a month. Her face gave nothing away, but the hard edge in her eyes made him stand. “I’ll be right back. Gary, go through the acquisition premiums on the Luther portfolio with everyone.”
Dylan stood and walked through to his inner office.
The woman who turned toward him bore almost no resemblance to his sister-in-law. Tears had carved tracks through her makeup, and her face was puffy and red.
“Lily?” Dylan reached for her instinctively. “What’s happened? Oh my God, the kids?”
“No. They’re fine.” Lily wilted into him. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come. You’re busy.”
Dylan held back a grimace. Lily was prone to exaggeration, but she didn’t usually turn up at his office a sobbing mess. “Stop it.” With a firm grip on her arm, he led her to the plush couch, which afforded an amazing view over a glittering slice of Sydney Harbor. “We’re family.” He handed her his navy silk handkerchief and sat beside her, putting a hand on her knee.
She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“I said it was okay. What’s he said? He hasn’t hurt you, has he?”
“No, no. It’s just…” She wiped ineffectively at her eyes, smearing her makeup further. “I saw something on his cell. A number I didn’t recognize, and I asked him about it. He went mental. Accused me of all sorts of things.”
Dylan patted her knee to stop himself from clenching his fists. “I’m sure he didn’t mean any of it.”
“I bloody knew it!”
Dylan recognized the owner of the angry voice even before he looked up. He steeled himself to be calm. “Brian, whatever you’ve done this time isn’t any of my business, but don’t you think you should cut Lily some slack?”
“That’s right. Stick up for her again.” Brian wrenched his arm out of Dylan’s assistant’s grip. “Get your hand off my wife’s knee.”
Dylan lifted his hand in mock surrender. “Calm down. Don’t think I won’t have security throw you out if you don’t get a grip.”
He stood to face his older brother, and the two men glared at each other, eye to eye. If it weren’t for the frown lines and the gray nudging at his temples, Brian could have been Dylan’s reflection. His older brother had the same broad shoulders, flashing green eyes, dark hair, and a firm chin set in grim determination.
You’re doing Lily and the kids no favors getting him angrier. Dylan shook his head almost imperceptibly at his assistant, and she stepped out of the room, quietly closing the door behind her. There would be no need for security. No one needed any more of a scene. Dylan turned to Lily. “So what do we need to do to sort this?”
Lily stood. “I’m sorry. It’s nothing. Really. I shouldn’t have come.”
“Of course it’s nothing.” Brian’s eyes glittered dangerously.
“I’m talking to Lily just for a moment, Brian. Perhaps you’d like to wait outside for five? Just so Lily can gather her thoughts.”
“So you two can plot about getting rid of me, you mean.” Folding his arms across his chest, Brian stood firm. He was clearly going nowhere.
Dylan looked carefully at his brother. Was that really hurt in his eyes? “Hang on a minute. Do you think—”
“I should go. The children will be coming home from school soon.” Lily made for the door.
Dylan took her arm again. “Wait. We all need to talk about this.”
“No. Let her go. It’s the two of us who need to talk.” Brian pushed Dylan’s hand away and led Lily to the door. He whispered something in her ear. She nodded tightly, and Dylan sighed inwardly at the way her tears seemed to have miraculously dried up.
Brian waited for the door to close before he turned back to Dylan. “You have to get out of her head.”
“You heard me. She’s my wife.”
“She’s your wife again now, is she? What about the last twenty times you’ve disappeared these past ten years? Has she been your wife then? Or perhaps when you were in bed with your Yankee mistress, what about then?”
“I haven’t disappeared. And it’s hardly been twenty times. Anyway, she’s still my wife. I’m back now, aren’t I?”
Yes. Not that I’m sure I like it. “You can understand why she might have a few trust issues,” Dylan said dryly.
Brian turned his back to Dylan and stalked to the massive window. “Sure. She doesn’t need to now, though.” His shoulders hunched as if he was building up to something. “She relies on you when I’m not here, but I’m back. She took me back. And she is my wife. We’re never going to make it work if every time we have a fight she comes running to you.” He turned, and Dylan was shocked at the pain that tightened Brian’s face. “We’ve got to try and make this work. You know what it’s like to not have a father. I want the kids to trust me again. Give me a chance to figure things out with Lily.”
Every fiber of Dylan’s being hummed with resentment. Brian wanting forgiveness and space was a bit rich after the way he’d bailed out on everything. These past ten years had been a mess as far as Dylan was concerned. First there’d been an affair, which had taken Brian over two years to end. Then he’d been away more than he’d been home as he checked out a series of “business ventures” that never turned into anything tangible. He’d returned four months ago full of apology, and Lily lacked either the strength or the inclination to kick him to the curb. “Why should I trust you?”
“Because I’m your brother. And because you’d never actually marry Lily. She’s not your type.” Brian held up his hand as Dylan’s mouth dropped open. “Don’t play dumb. I know Lily and the kids adore you. She’d marry you in an instant if you asked her.”
“I would never—”
“I’m glad to hear it. I’m your brother.” Brain waved his hand at the office. “And a partner here. But Lily and I need some space. Some time alone to work out how to be a family again.”
Barely able to speak, Dylan sat heavily in his chair. Brian thought Lily and he…
“I know you’ve held the company together. I never said sorry for dropping you and Mom in it when I left the first time. But like I said, I’m back. I need to reestablish myself in the company and sort things with my family. So take a break. Give Lily and me some space, and give yourself a holiday. You probably need one.”
I should leave him in charge, just like that? Unlikely. “What if I say no?”
“Why would you?” Brian scoffed. “When was the last time you had a holiday?”
Dylan shrugged. Never.
“It’s not like I can’t run the company. I did it for plenty of years before you took over.”
Before you ran away and then got distracted. “I’ll have to talk to Mom about it.”
“I already have, and she agrees. You need to leave. Just for three months or so, to let Lily and me make a real go of it.”
“It’s not that long. Anything shorter and nothing will really change.”
“I should just do what you say? Get out of your way?”
“Pretty much.” The pain had left Brian’s face, but there was a stretched look about him that belied his assertive tone.
Dylan caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window. He looked tired. Hadn’t he just been thinking about how he needed a holiday before Lily’s appearance interrupted his meeting? It wasn’t as if Brian had embezzled company funds—he’d just been absent enough that Dylan had needed to head up all their accounts for fear that Brian wouldn’t be there for critical meetings. But he’d been back for four months now, living with Lily and the kids for two of those. It was the longest he’d been around for years. Perhaps he was serious this time. “What about the launch of the new credit scheme? You can’t roll that out without me. Clients will freak.”
“So you’ll go?”
“Maybe. I’ll talk to Mom about it.”
Brian’s face relaxed.
He thought I’d put up more of a fight. Maybe I should have.
Dylan stroked his jaw. He didn’t owe his brother anything. “I didn’t leave Lily alone because of you. And I wouldn’t even consider going if I didn’t think it could be good for her and the kids. You’re going to have to earn the right to be their father again.” He put up his hand as Brian began to protest. “I have a meeting to get back to. We’ll talk later.”
The meeting finished without further incident, and Dylan was buried in paperwork the rest of the day, but at the back of his mind, Brian’s words reverberated. Dylan did know what it was like to not have a father. Theirs had died when Dylan was young.
The fading sun cast a rosy glow over the city as Dylan packed up his notes. Looking down from his office window, he watched people strolling along the harborside. Not a bad idea. He dismissed his driver, hoping a walk would clear his head.
As the last warmth of the day bounced off the concrete footpath, he pondered the events of the previous few months. His brother was back. If his father had come back after being gone for ten years, would he have been pleased to see him? Without a doubt.
Dylan sighed. Lily’s kids needed their father. It still baffled him that Lily had taken his brother back, that she’d stuck by him all this time. Perhaps she simply wanted to believe love would conquer all.
Brian was right when he said Lily wasn’t Dylan’s type. Not that Dylan really had a type. It was more that he didn’t believe in marriage. Lily and Brian were an excellent reminder why. Someone always loved more, and someone always got hurt.
“It’s none of my business.” Dylan looked up to check that no one had heard him muttering and glanced at the window display he was passing. He did a double take. The image could have been a copy of one he had at home of his mother from her days as a professional dancer. A woman dressed in white struck a strong yet graceful pose, frozen in fluid motion.
Adventurer Cruises entertainment team. Open auditions this week.
A cruise, perhaps? He needed something to occupy himself for three months. Lying around doing nothing would drive him crazy.
No one he knew was likely to be cruising the Pacific. They all had their own yachts, so he’d be almost incognito.
“I could carry on another family tradition,” he said quietly. “Dance again. Mom might like that.”
The idea was appealing. Ten years ago, he’d been all signed up for dance school when Brian had disappeared with his lover and left Dylan scrambling to study business and help his mother run the company. His mother knew how disappointed he’d been, but she had also known she couldn’t run the business by herself. Neither of them had talked about his dancing again.
Dancing on a cruise ship would keep him busy, and it would provide a new challenge. He still took dance lessons every now and then just to keep himself in shape. The discipline of keeping his posture strong, of holding his muscles in perfect line, was intense—good practice for ensuring his mind was calm and precise in business. It would be interesting to find out whether he had what it took to dance on a cruise ship. Why not?
“How hard could it be?”
Her eyes flicked back to him again.
Michaela Western was trying her best to ignore the new crew member, but something kept drawing her eye, something more than his height and broad shoulders. He was a bit older than the dancers usually recruited for her team, but there was something else as well. Something she could almost taste.
Perhaps it was his square jaw and brilliant emerald eyes.
“Twenty bucks says that tall dancer you’re staring at is shacked up with the choreographer by the end of the week. The new guy from admin, however? I think he might just be mine.”
Michaela shook herself. Damn, had she really been staring?
“Felly!” she said to cover her embarrassment. “You wouldn’t be admitting to your cruise director that you’d start something with one of your direct reports?”
They both laughed, but the humor was hollow for Michaela.
“I know you don’t go there, darling,” Felicity said, “but it’s always nice to look, isn’t it? And we can’t all be as wonderfully chaste and professional as you. You have to admit, this intake has some exceptional hotties.”
Michaela followed the head purser’s gaze from the front-row seat in the cruise ship’s theater to the stage, where the new crew members stood huddled under the lights like performing sheep, waiting for their onboard induction. “I’m not sure I’d call any of them hotties,” she whispered, feigning lack of interest. Truth was, the tall male dancer was definitely hot. Even the way he stood, like a cat about to pounce, sent a thrill though her. Michaela couldn’t help the blush that stole up her neck. “We should stop it, Felly, someone might hear.”
“Sorry,” Felicity sighed. “It gets to me sometimes. You know, the romantic setting, the heat, the short, tight uniforms…”
Michaela’s laughter was real this time as her friend fell into a mock swoon. “Come on, let’s get this over with.” She stood, smoothing down her dress uniform, the neat navy blazer with gold braid emphasizing the lean line of her body. “Smiles on.”
She stole another look at the hottie as she stepped onto the stage and launched into her practiced speech.
“Good morning, everyone.” One hundred heads turned toward her, one hundred dewy, expectant faces looked up at her, and one expectant face in particular seemed to look with careful interest. A face with green eyes like the clear Pacific Ocean and a slow smile that was making her heart beat far too quickly. Michaela forced herself to take a controlling breath. “Welcome to the Pacific Empress, and welcome—” She paused for effect. “—to our family.”
As she went through her standard spiel, Michaela kept noticing those emerald eyes on her. Pinpricks of tension again whispered over her skin. Enough already, she scolded herself and turned her head to block any part of him from her view. The tension faded. She stood straighter as she continued.
This was her sixth year working in the cruise industry, her second year on this ship. Perseverance, skill, and luck had landed her this position. She was the only woman to hold the cruise director job in the entire Adventurer Cruises fleet. The work had taken its toll, though. The hours were long, the focus it required extreme. She knew it sometimes made her snappish—even cold—with her staff.
When she first started, she’d been after a new challenge—a challenge and a bit of adventure, promising herself she’d stay in the cruise business for five years max. She’d met too many people who had been onboard for too long, and it had sapped something vital out of them. You could see the strain in their faces.
Now here she was, six years later and with the top job. An international management position back on land was next on her wish list, but it would be hard to leave such a good setup. No one was exactly falling over themselves offering her anything better, and having had a taste of life in the cruise business, Michaela sometimes wondered whether a desk job would be drab in comparison.
“I know this is the fulfillment of a long-held dream for many of you, and you’re right to be excited. The Pacific Empress is not just any ship,” she said. “This is a new life. A new world. A world where you will be part of other people’s dreams. A world where you’ll see Pacific Island life up close, swim in perfect waters, and work tirelessly with amazing people.”
“I’ll take over from here. Thank you, Cruise Director.”
Michaela jumped. The man behind her had appeared out of nowhere. Gold-encrusted epaulettes covered his shoulders, and his white uniform was starched so heavily, it probably stood up all by itself. Damn.
She covered the microphone. “What are you doing down here? I mean, you’re more than welcome, sir, but are you sure you want to take over? I’ve only just started.”
The captain nodded tightly and held his hand out for the microphone. His dismissive expression made her wince, but her professional veneer was practiced, and she kept her smile firmly fixed. She turned back to the new recruits. “One of those amazing people, in charge of your safety and mine, is your captain. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Captain Atkinson.”
A few people clapped as the captain flashed his own brilliant smile at the new crew. “Thank you. You can just stand there for now,” he said quietly before taking the microphone.
Felicity rolled her eyes behind the captain’s back, but Michaela tried to keep her face neutral. Bastard. Why did he always make her feel small?
Because he can. Suck it up.
The captain’s briefing was more an account of his own heroics than anything useful, and Michaela almost itched with the desire to get out of the theater. But he’d told her to stand there, so stand there she would.
Without her speech to concentrate on, she found her eyes wandering around the lofty theater. As if drawn by some supercharged magnet, they searched out the new recruit again. He was staring at her.
Shit. She did not need to start anything with one of her crew. She didn’t need to start anything, period. She’d fought hard for her independence and position and had built a reputation for not playing around, which she intended to keep.
Dragging her eyes away from green depths that promised, well, anything she wanted, she focused on the captain. It didn’t help. Standing in such close proximity to the man who had almost ruined her while feeling the heat of another man’s gaze was enough to make a girl need a drink.
The captain finished his very abbreviated description of passenger boarding protocol and turned to Michaela. “Anything I’ve missed, Cruise Director?”
She started to shake her head, then wondered if this was a test. She’d show him. Taking the microphone he proffered, she said, “Thank you, Captain. Just a quick note about onboard romances. Hopefully I won’t ever have to mention this again.” She felt the captain stiffen beside her. It was usually up to team leaders to warn new crew of the dangers of being caught with their pants down, but with the captain beside her she felt she needed to say…something.
“I cannot stress how seriously breaches of this protocol are looked upon. Relationships with passengers are strictly prohibited by your employment contracts, and affairs with fellow crew usually end badly. Remember, you’re going to be in the middle of the ocean. If you break up, there’s nowhere to go.”
The crew giggled, but the captain gave her a cold look and grabbed the microphone out of her hand. “Of course we want your time with us to be enjoyable. So remember, if you’re having a bit of good, safe fun, the passengers will be too. Make the most of any shore time you get. Rest when you can, eat healthily and in good time, and remember—” He smiled. “—you’re living in paradise.”
Everyone cheered and clapped.
“Dismissed,” he said. The crowd started to disperse, the low drone of all those excited voices echoing around the theater.
Captain Atkinson flicked the microphone switch to off and handed it back to her. “I’m not sure that was strictly necessary, Michaela. Let’s allow them their moment of romantic bliss for at least one day, shall we?”
“Certainly, sir.” She bit her lip to stop the words she wanted to say from escaping.
“I hope that last point wasn’t directed at me? I thought we were beyond all that.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Good.” He started to turn away, about to leave, then stopped and raised a dark eyebrow at her. “Sorry I had to take over, but one of the new girls in admin is the daughter of someone at head office. Wanted to make sure she reported back that we’re all shipshape.”
You don’t trust me, you mean.
“I would have thought that leaving the cruise director to do her job would have made that impression more effectively than you stepping in. Sir.”
The statement came from behind her, spoken in a deep, low voice. When Michaela turned to discover its owner, she was hit by a blast of the same green eyes that had been unsettling her all morning. She caught her breath. Close up, he was even sexier than she’d realized.
The dancer stepped forward so he stood beside her, but she moved just a little to make sure the spark she felt didn’t get any hotter.
“And you are?” The captain almost spat. He wasn’t used to being spoken to like that. Mr. Green Eyes had better watch it.
“Dylan Johns, new dancer. I don’t mean to intrude, but I overhead you and couldn’t help myself.”
The captain bristled, but Dylan seemed almost bored, his face a nonchalant mask Michaela couldn’t read. The newbie was ballsy, she’d give him that.
“We like to follow the chain of command around here.” The captain turned to Michaela, ignoring Dylan completely. “I happen to know the girl’s father likes a man in charge. I was making sure he’s confident we’ve got everything under control. Cruise Director.” Captain Atkinson clicked his heels together, military style, and spun sharply on his polished white shoe before marching out of the theater, his lurking subordinates following at his heels.
Michaela’s cheeks burned with indignation. Bloody Atkinson, saying she wasn’t up to the job because she was a woman.
“Time to go,” she snapped at Felicity. Grabbing her friend’s arm, she practically dragged her out of the theater and away from Mr. Green Eyes before he could add to her embarrassment.
“What was that about?” Felicity hissed as they left.
“What was what about?”
“Your ‘Thou shalt not have a good time, boys and girls’ speech. I know you don’t go there, but that was pretty full on.”
“Oh.” Michaela shrugged, relieved. “Why not be clear about boundaries from the get-go?”
“You were thinking of that delectable guy from admin and giving yourself a firm telling off for having unprofessional thoughts, weren’t you?” Felicity’s grin was devilish.
“Admin?” Michaela blushed, the green-eyed new staff member springing to mind. The green-eyed dancer.
She almost laughed as the realization hit her. Come on, he’s a male dancer! Might as well be attracted to a tropical palm tree for all the good it would do. “Oh, yes, the dark one from admin,” she said. “I was probably letting him seduce me subconsciously.” She winked at Felicity, hoping that would be an end to it.
Felicity smiled. “It was a good cover. No one is going to suspect you when he’s found tied up in his stateroom with whipped cream covering his chest.”
“Felicity!” Michaela felt the blush right down to her toes. “You know very well I would never! And he’s not all that edible, anyway.”
“Rightio.” Felicity chortled. “If you don’t want him, be sure and let me know. He gave me a filthy little smile in the middle of your tirade. I’m sure I can find space for him within my male menu. And I think his chocolate good looks would go perfectly with cream.”
Michaela let her jaw drop open in mock horror, then got infected by the glint in Felicity’s eye and laughed. It was good to have a girlfriend on board. Despite Felicity being so much younger and far more of a good-time girl than Michaela, it was fun to laugh with another woman and know she wouldn’t be made to pay for it later in some subtle way.
Michaela looked at her watch. It was definitely time to be more of a good-time girl herself instead of letting her career aspirations dictate her every move. “Six o’clock. Cocktail hour?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
This first night was a time for the new crew to get adjusted to their onboard surroundings—for people to meet properly, have briefings, and make plans. But Michaela’s core team were all repeat contractors. The only new crew on her staff were the entertainers. Those dancers and singers would be busy for some hours yet, working with the choreographer and checking costumes. Felicity was equally lucky to be working with an experienced crew.
“I’m thinking a chocolate mudslide might be in order,” Felicity said as she slid onto the bar stool next to Michaela.
“I was hoping for an Emerald Dream,” Michaela said, picturing the eyes that the fruity cocktail with a generous shot of Midori would perfectly accompany.
“Whatever takes your fancy.”
Michaela felt herself relax as the sun started its gentle softening over the edge of the sea, right in front of the poolside bar. “It is beautiful really, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Living onboard a magnificent cruise ship? Sailing around the Pacific Islands all day? Come on, you know it’s a bit of a gift. How many people get to watch the sun set over the ocean every day?”
As she took a sip of her drink, Michaela had to admit it was rather magnificent—her drink and the view. She gazed into the cocktail and thought again about the man with the dreamy eyes she’d met in the theater.
“Cruise Director?” A deep male voice brought her gaze up, and a pair of very real green eyes looked down at her.
Keep it together, girl. She nodded coolly at Mr. Green Eyes.
“The others are still in wardrobe, but my costumes are a bit small. Your seamstress didn’t believe how tall I was. They’re letting out the seams.”
You look the perfect height to me.
Michaela’s whole body tingled as she gazed up into his strong-featured face. He stood just in front of the setting sun, and the light haloed his hair, but the angelic effect was out of place with the hard jaw, the firm shoulders, and the very male way he looked at her. He pushed his hand through his dark hair, and she had to fight the urge to brush a fallen tendril off his temple.
Unlike his costumes, his uniform fit perfectly, the tunic emphasizing the broadness of his shoulders, the navy pants accentuating his long legs and smoothing out neat and tight over his obviously very firm butt. The white and navy suited his coloring, too, and after a few weeks onboard the light olive of his face and hands would turn an even warmer tone.
His eyes glittered as he waited for her response. If she’d met him in a bar, she would have sworn he was interested. But as he turned his head to watch a male crew member walk by, Michaela reminded herself he was a dancer. She’d met dozens of male dancers in her six years on cruise ships, and she could count the number of straight ones on one hand. With fingers left over.
He’s almost certain to be gay.
The shiver of disappointment that ran through her surprised her.
“You getting on okay with all the boys on board?” Felicity asked innocently.
“Sure, they seem like a good bunch,” he said, apparently missing Felicity’s barely veiled innuendo.
Yet there was something in the way he carried himself that defied the stereotype. He had a self-assuredness and something more, a hunger. The way he looked at her…
No, that’s just your ego looking for a compliment, Ms. Western.
“I was told to come and find you,” he said. “Anything I can do while they sort out my costumes?”
“I know what he could do for me,” Felicity muttered under her breath, and Michaela felt the blush rise in her again.
“Not right now…” She looked at his gold name badge as if he’d never introduced himself. “…Dylan. Just be at the staff meeting seven thirty sharp tomorrow morning.” Michaela turned her back on him and took a long pull on her cocktail straw.
After a moment, she heard him turn and leave.
“So that’s Dylan,” Felicity said. Michaela turned to her, confused. “Don’t you remember? You showed me your personnel list. He’s the one who’s thirty-two, isn’t he? Certainly makes a nice change to have a man on your team rather than just boys and girls. Not that it makes any difference to you, of course,” she purred. “As you are a woman of virtue and high morals. Oh, and his boss.”
Michaela held the shock down in her stomach. Surely her face wasn’t giving her away? But hearing Dylan’s name spoken so lasciviously by Felicity made him sound anything but unattainable. And him in his thirties, the same age as her…
Oh, stop it.
She was his boss. Dylan Johns was out of bounds.