Sunset Flare (The Caliendo Resort, Book Four)
Izzy Caliendo is a wild child. Born into a rich family, she uses her status as a pampered princess to avoid work, play the field and live her life the way she wants.
Until Gunner Mann comes along, anyway.
Gunner, hired by Izzy’s brother, Marc, to decode their grandfather’s secret files, is mysterious, dangerous and doesn't bow down to Izzy's wild ways.
When Marc traps these two in the basement together to finish the files, sparks start to fly. After Izzy finds out about her own file and is confronted with confusion about her past, she turns to Gunner for help. But Gunner is running from his own past and doesn’t want to involve anyone—especially a Caliendo woman. He is so close to freedom—how can he turn back now?
The more time he and Izzy spent together, however, makes it harder and harder for either of them to walk away. Will they simply finish the files and go their separate ways or will deceit, lies and secrecy actually bring these two people from opposite worlds together?
A MOVEMENT IN the woods stopped Izzy Caliendo from dialing the rest of her mother’s cell phone number. She peered out the window, squinting against the morning sun, considering her parents’ half hour drive from the airport to her long-lost brother’s reclusive cabin in the woods only left a short window of opportunity before their connection would be lost. Their chartered airplane had landed in the middle of nowhere, where farmlands and brush stretched as far and wide as the eye could see. Izzy had Google-searched the area prior to their departure. But before her parents disappeared out of civilization for weeks, Izzy needed to talk to her mother.
It was a matter of life and death…or, at the very least, a matter of what the hell was going on around here.
Time and again, like a child’s game of hide and seek—which Izzy had never been a fan of—her family hid relatively important matters from her, compelling her to seek them out. Decisions, such as the ones regarding the five-star resort they owned and managed, and complications from their mass of family secrets—because, damn, her family hid secrets like a chipmunk storing nuts for the winter. Even into adulthood, Izzy only acquired Intel when she caught one of her siblings acting strangely, like her brother, Marc, had the night before with his jerky movements and computer screen dodging. All red-flag indications that something was up. Now, she needed to pull out her sweet-charm and corner a family member into confession. Consistently, that person happened to be her mother, making this hijacking over the phone for answers of the utmost importance.
What had started as a casual, unannounced visit to her brother’s office the night before, had become an excavation of confidential information. Izzy had planned on digging for details regarding an upcoming huge event at the resort. Calista Manzedi was showcasing her fall/winter line in the golden ballroom. Calista Manzedi! The most amazing clothing designer of all time. Her designs happened to occupy at least half of Izzy’s closet, unmistakably demonstrating Izzy’s love for the woman’s intricate designs. Not to mention, this event would be the talk of the fashion society for months to come and for some reason Izzy’s tickets were in the second row. The second row! As if she were a peddler begging for money. She needed two front row tickets. One for her and one for her best friend, Abby McAdams. Surprisingly for her, the tickets were proving to be rather difficult to acquire. For one, her family owned the resort hosting Manzedi’s show and two, Izzy was a constant in the fashion industry scene, regularly traveling across the world to runway shows. And yet, she couldn’t acquire a front row seat at her own resort…? Not acceptable.
However, last night, the fashion show issue had been shoved to the back burner when she’d encountered Marc’s typically calm and collected demeanor overrun by jumpy movements. Marc didn’t do jerky or jumpy. Annoyed, Izzy had grown accustomed to his deep, agitated inhale of breath and the way his jaw tightened when he lacked enthusiasm over a topic.
He had a look, too. The look. Last night she’d gotten “the look” and earlier this morning he’d brushed her off. She’d be the first to admit, Marc had a routine of brushing her off and she had a habit of generally overreacting. Fun old sibling rivalry and all. However, something was definitely up. Izzy didn’t know what, but she was desperate to find. Right after she deciphered exactly what the movement in the brush surrounding her house had been.
Staring through the large bay window of her suite, her eyes locked on the copse of trees winding around the property and shielding her family’s space from the rest of the resort. The backyard remained quiet, peaceful and undisturbed, aside from the swaying branches where she’d sworn she’s seen a glimpse of dark denim jeans and a black shirt. The colors camouflaged against the old trees bark and the summer’s dense leaves made it almost impossible to confirm, but she’d seen someone. She was sure of it.
The possibility of someone being in the brush brought a flood of panic over her. Her fingers painfully clenched around her phone and she pressed her closed fist against the glass, supporting her trembling body. Not even the warm summer sun could soothe her. Nothing ever consoled her when these episodes hit, but she’d learned to deal with the sudden alarm and prided herself on doing so alone and hastily.
Settling her free hand against her stomach, ignoring her fingers bunching the material of her white blouse with a deathly grip, she mentally repeated the words she’d memorized as a little girl.
This isn’t real. No one is out there. No one is after you. Breathe, Izzy…breathe.
With each gulp of air, she battled the remaining fear tangled inside her. Slowly, her shuddering body ceased, the anxiety coursing through her veins relinquished and she felt her tense muscles loosening. Best of all, her mind placated, balancing fear with reality. Unnecessary fear and yet familiar fear that flared inside of her more than she’d like to—or would—admit.
She almost laughed at the ridiculousness of her reaction after all these years. Almost. She could only muster a relieved smile while her good sense rushed back.
Considering she lived in the north wing of the resort, which maintained ninety-percent capacity all year round, she should be used to people milling about. She was used to people. It was the woods that sparked her panic. Woods that the rest of her family fluently trailed in and out of without the worries Izzy carried. In the summer, they took quick jaunts along the path to the beach or, in the winter, longer travels through the snow to toboggan on snow hills. A ten-minute walk took them to a pond for summer fishing and winter skating.
But not Izzy. She stayed far away from the woods, with no interest in partaking in those activities beyond the invisible line she’d created along the trees’ edge. She preferred to sunbathe along the resorts packed shoreline.
Opening her eyes now, she slowly tilted up her head. Her hand felt glued to the window as she strained her eyes past the glass to confirm she’d mistaken the supposed person as a breeze in the trees or a scattering animal. Even if she’d seen a person they were likely a lost guest wandering up from the beach. It wouldn’t be the first time. She had no need to worry.
As the comforting reminder easer her worries, a man emerged from the brush in dark denim and black, just like she’d seen, but she realized his quick and precise movements weren’t those of a guest.
Izzy blinked, as if trying to blink him away, but the tall, dark and handsome stranger remained thirty-feet away, popping in and out of the trees. And handsome he was…in a dangerously mysterious way. Gawking at his brawny, superman-built physique, she watched him walk the perimeter, oozing confidence and determination. From the way he paid no attention to his surroundings she assumed he didn’t care what others thought, no doubt ignored them, and did whatever he pleased.
Why did such cocky qualities excite her?
Bundling these characteristics together promised the kind of thrilling danger Izzy enjoyed.
Her lips parted as her tongue darted out, wetting them and wondering what the mysterious guest’s lips tasted like…felt like.
And just like that her thoughts strayed to a quick romp with a man whose name she didn’t even know. He looked like a Dylan, or Axe…maybe a Beck. A hot name for a hot guy. Entranced, she ignored the “no sleeping with guests” rule replaying in her mind. She’d never broken the rule, but this man stirred a wickedly naughty desire to make him her first. She’d daydreamt the ideal places in the resort to break that rule: the steamy sauna or an after-hour evening in one of the enclosed cabanas.
Her heart raced, envisioning this man pulling shut the curtains of the cabana and stripping down naked. She felt the adrenaline pumping at the possible thrill of being caught entwined in the hot tub, or on a lounger, or their loud moans of pleasure being overheard by walking guests. Naughty and taboo. The prospect turned her on.
Why hadn’t she broken this rule earlier? Because no man had ever given her reason to.
Her enchanting daydream was short-lived as she watched him mount a device, so small she couldn’t make it out, to a tree trunk. His head tilted in the direction of her suite, and in the direction of the wing housing her family’s individual suites.
Cold chills ran up her spine and anger rooted in the pit of her stomach. She could guess exactly the deceit on this man’s agenda. It had nothing to do with her and everything to do with her older sister, Emma.
Emma had recently fallen head-over-heels in love with billionaire playboy, Grayson Cohen, whose picture frequented social media more than Izzy’s. Emma didn’t splash her personal life across social media, though, and the new couple had been evading all outlets for weeks. Now, this son of a bitch newspaper reporter thought he could set up a surveillance system to spy on them?
Over her dead body.
Emma and Grayson’s relationship had been rockier than a sloping mountain and they didn’t need extra negativity from the press.
Izzy straightened as he dodged back into the brush. Slipping on a pair of teal flip flops she considered calling security—the wise and easy solution—but something urged her outside.
Fury? Curiosity? Desire?
She didn’t debate it, didn’t care, but she planned on breaking every last camera that selfish prick hung up and giving this courageous reporter a swift kick between the legs. Ruining other people’s lives for a story didn’t sit well with Izzy, especially when it involved her family.
On the way across the yard she snatched her nephew’s baseball bat, halting at the edge of the brush. The man had disappeared back behind the foliage long before she’d stepped out of the house. A wave of anxiety strived to overtake her, but she remained rooted, forcing herself to check the trees and confirm his intention: Cameras. Check.
She stepped back, lifted the bat in the air and brought the wood slamming down against the mechanical piece. It smashed on contact, giving her a satisfied moment, and encouraging her to backtrack along the brush. Each camera she located mimicked the destructive sound. And when she finished, she wiped the back of her hand across her damp forehead, standing back and relishing in her triumphs. Number one, she hadn’t panicked and two, she’d protected her family. No one messed with her family. Three, she should call security and have them circle the area. She pulled her cell phone out, resting the bat on the ground when a voice sounded, scaring her nearly to death.
“You’ll regret that, la signora.”
Izzy jumped at the thick Italian accent which had crept up unknowingly behind her. The bat slipped out of her reach as she spun around, twisting off a sandal, her heel sliding on the grass.
“Mi dispiace. I’m sorry.” Another man stared at her with unfriendly, grave black eyes looking straight through her, not as though he didn’t see her, but rather like he saw past the barriers and the face she wore for strangers. Those eyes. Familiarity danced through her mind, peeking into all the areas of her memory, assessing why they were so familiar. Nothing triggered.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?” she demanded, wiggling her foot back into her sandal while reaching for the bat and never taking her eyes off of him. He stood close to her, less than two feet away and didn’t seem fazed by the closeness.
She swallowed the gag reflex traveling up her throat at the mix of his old cigar-scent. Her sharp inhale burned her nostrils.
“You must be il bellissimo, Izzy…”
She crossed her arms. “You must be trespassing.”
A low chuckle turned into a coughing spell, shooting his alcohol breath at her. This old lost geezer was a good example why they had a cash bar opposed to an inclusive one: to prevent drunks from wandering the grounds. Or was he a reporter? He looked too old to be a reporter. Didn’t he? And his outfit, a drab pair of brown slacks and button up shirt which looked two sizes too big. But she gave him credit for his plaid jacket—a cute touch. He needed to fire whoever cut and styled his grey, frizzy mop of a hair. He looked like a man you’d find behind a desk. Possibly an assistant to the man who’d mounted the cameras. Or possibly a distraction. Either way, she’d deactivated the situation, smashing every last camera and preventing these scheming men from getting a story on anyone in her family.
Izzy took a brave step toward him. “You have exactly five minutes to leave the same way you came before security arrives and escorts you and your associate off the property. Understood?”
His lips rose in a dry smirk.
Her skin crawled.
Bad vibes bounced off him. Creepy vibes. A know-it-all vibe Izzy didn’t like, nor did she plan to stick around to explore further.
“Five minutes.” With her last warning, she headed back toward her suite. She didn’t fight the urge to look back at him as she walked away. In fact, she turned right around to face him, walking backwards and making motions on her wrist, indicating his time was ticking by while holding her cell phone out reminding him of her threat. She also pointed at the gate where she fully expected him to retreat.
But he stood rooted.
Why? Waiting for the tall, dark, handsome and missing stranger? Who were these people?
She pulled her phone out and dialed Marc’s cell phone, getting his voicemail.
“Marc, there are two strange men lingering by our wing, mounting cameras to the trees. I’m calling security to have them removed and check into their background. I want to know who they are and exactly who they work for because after I’m done with them they won’t have a job.”
GUNNER MANN TAPPED his finger on the fuzzy grey screen of his laptop.
What the hell had gone wrong?
One tap, two, then a rapid number of unsteady drumming followed, as if the action would wiggle a loose wire back into place and his failed surveillance would resume its live streaming.
Instinct over expectations.
Rapping the screen remained
pointless. But, there he stood, hunched over the desk, giving his finger a workout while completely baffled over the broken connection. His mind raced to figure out what had gone wrong from the time he’d confirmed the crystal clear visual to the less than half hour it took him to mount the cameras.
Crystal clear. And now, nothing.
Sitting down, he rolled the office chair closer to the desk, tucking himself underneath. He scrubbed frustrated hands over his face, squeezing his eyes shut and inhaling deeply.
Shit. He didn’t have time for this right now.
Cursing his bad luck, he initiated his search to determine the setback. Suddenly being dragged to The Caliendo Resort to assist in decoding ancient files from a well-known Italian mafia family seemed like the least of his worries. If these cameras weren’t up and running, he might as well put a bullseye over his chest because he would be a walking target.
The thick woods surrounding the resort worked as a veil, hiding Gunner, but also concealed those who didn’t want to be seen, who could gander from the woods aiming the scope of their gun directly on him. Anton might have promised this family had no ties with the Caliendo mob in Italy, but Gunner knew words didn’t guarantee shit. Countries apart didn’t change the fact they all shared the same last name.
He trusted Anton with his life, but the deception of Gunner’s past left him broken and wary. Hell, it left him untrusting, bitter and full of rage. And these Caliendos weren’t living a reserved, quiet life out of the spotlight, either. Quite the opposite. They’d made a name for themselves owning a chain of luxury resorts, which brought a slew of attention in their direction. For all Gunner, or they, knew, they had a target on their backs. Anton claimed he’d taken control, but his nephews were as malicious as their dead father. Under no circumstances would Gunner stay here without surveillance.
Eyes fixated on the hazy screen, and he slammed his fists on the desk. “Damn it.”
Any moment now Anton would be pounding on the suite door demanding his presence at the unnecessary meeting. A meeting Gunner had made clear he wouldn’t be attending. Remaining at a distance from the Caliendo clan was in his best interests and putting up surveillance better suited his time and survival.
Distance and cameras would keep him alive. Not meetings about codes he already knew how to decode or about liabilities he already understood.
Rewinding the short recorded footage, he discovered exactly what—or who—had broken the connection.
He immediately recognized the youngest Caliendo sibling.
His hands balled into fists watching the notoriously hot-headed Izzy Caliendo walk straight to his camera and raise a baseball bat to the screen before it vaporized into grey. Her flawlessly styled waves of blonde hair sprinkled down her ivory-colored skin, and even through the camera her brown eyes were the deepest, most alluring gems he’d ever encountered. After extensively researching the entire family in preparation of this week, plus a search for any signs of mafia connections, the vision of this woman had stuck in his head…like a blood-sucking leech.
Filthy rich, pampered, and spoiled, she displayed her life like a reality television show. Her social media outlets were flooded with tweets and hashtags of the bars she hit up, the endless parties she attended and the random trips around the world she enjoyed in her family’s chartered plane. Not to mention the endless pictures of her daily attire, meal choices and selfies. She thrived on attention.
Gunner loathed women like her, knew women like her, and didn’t want a thing to do with her kind.
His teeth grated tighter together watching Izzy carelessly eliminate each camera.
He could strangle her. Or spill a drink on her perfect pressed, white blouse. Ruining her shirt might rouse more of a reaction from her.
Pushing away from the desk, he groaned and cursed at the same time. He stood, knocking the chair over with a clatter.
The cameras were destroyed. She’d destroyed them. Now what? Find the local electronics store and pick up a whole new camera system? What were the odds any store in Willow Valley carried surveillance systems when everyone in this small tourist town likely knew each other?
He was screwed.
He might as well hit up the meeting now. What difference did it make? With no cameras, why not get nice and cozy with this family.
Unless…was this a set up?
His suspicion wasn’t warranted. He’d been set up before and it landed him in jail with a target on his back. An expensive target which had involved inmates bringing weapons to his cell, and security guards turning their backs. He’d almost died. But Anton had saved him. He should trust him.
He did trust him. Being cooped up in his cabin was messing with his mind, but it wouldn’t be long and he wouldn’t have to hide anymore.
Abandoning the cameras, his only sense of security for the last few years, he exited the suite, cringing at the sun glistening through the skylights across the smooth, clear water of the indoor pool.
Who had an indoor tropical paradise in their backyard? The Caliendos, that’s who.
He did an eye roll at the over-the-top rocks cascading down a slide and the jungle of foliage which disgusted him. He ignored the ginormous pool, and that enough loungers sat under the cabana to fit twenty-plus people. He certainly overlooked the top-of-the-line barbecue in the stone kitchen chalet. He’d always been a griller and that bad boy would grill up a delicious steak. He could almost taste the tender meat after an all-day marinade in his secret sauce.
He’d been envisioning his quaint cabin porch, and actually realizing for the first time, that after this week he could finally leave. It was surreal. He didn’t have to leave, but he wouldn’t be forced to stay either.
All of his somewhat positive thoughts stopped short at the sight of Izzy stepping around the boulder slide. Head down, not noticing him, she tapped manicured fingernails on her cell phone screen. White french nails matching her white chiffon, sleeveless blouse. His eyes dropped to where her teal shorts revealed damned sexy long, toned legs. His lack of control irritated him and he snapped his eyes back up to her face.
“Hey! You!” His loud shout echoed off the brick walls.
She looked up. A movie of emotions crossed her face—confusion, annoyance, shock and finally, anger. What the hell did she have to be angry about? She’d been the careless lunatic who’d destroyed his means of sleep. How the hell would he get through an hour without being able to rewind the outdoor activity?
Picking up her pace, she pointed a finger at him. “How the hell did you get in here? This is a private wing of the resort and installing cameras is unacceptable!” She sternly shouted at him. “But that’s nothing in comparison to breaking and entering the premises. How did you get in here? Don’t lie to me you son of a bitch. I will not tolerate lies.”
They stopped at arm’s length away from each other, both huffing and angry as hell.
“You smashed my cameras.” He barely got the words out before she continued shouting at him.
“Prohibited cameras. You’re lucky I didn’t smash the area between your legs. God knows you deserve it.” She let out a humourless laugh. “You deserve so much more. Like handcuffs, arrest, and having to stand in front of a judge and confess your guilt.”
His anger amplified with each condescending, know-it-all word out of her mouth. She’d probably never owed up to a single illegal thing she’d ever done. She deserved handcuffs. And a gag. A gag would come in handy right about now.
“I’m calling security.” She waved her cell phone at him.
“I am security.” Sort of. He was his own security.
“You’ve breached security. I’m getting the name of your employer and, before you leave here, you’ll be without a job.” Her fingers worked away at the screen of her cell phone. “Prepare to go to jail, you criminal!”
Jail? Never again. Even if the resorts’ security showed up, he’d been paid a pretty penny to be here and by her brother to boot. Security wouldn’t be handcuffing him. If they tried he’d have them pinned to the floor before they laid a finger on him. He didn’t really feel like causing a scene, but she evoked the urge to strangle her.
So, instead, he grabbed her cell phone from her busy fingers and tossed it in the pool.
She gasped. He’d never seen eyes widen so round and shapely and beautifully shocked at the same time.
What the hell was that?
He needed to be thrown in the pool. Being away from society had confused his thoughts. Caliendos were the worst. Off limits. No feelings. No anything.
“What did you do?” Each word passed by her open mouth painfully slowly.
Wasn’t it obvious? He had tossed her weapon into the pool. Point for him.
He said nothing.
“You threw my cell phone in the water.” Her sharp shriek rang in his ears. She looked up at him, repeating, “You threw my cell phone in the water!”
“You smashed my cameras and, let me tell you, they’re worth a helluva lot more than your little phone.”
“Little phone? My life is on that phone.”
“That’s just sad. You’re so self absorbed you think your entire life is on a little electronic box.”
“Oh my God, but it is. Everything.” She paused. “Everything. I can’t believe this. I. Can’t. Believe. This.”
“Can come back to reality where everything doesn’t revolve around you, sweetheart. Do you understand the capacity of what you’ve done?”
Her shocked stare fell on him. “Ruined your next viral story? Cost you money because now you owe cameras to whatever magazine or newspaper you’re writing for? Good. You deserve it. And now I am going to have your ass on a platter for ruining my cell phone. You threw it in the water. You actually threw my phone in the water!”
Gunner couldn’t say exactly what came over him in the next moment. It could have been spending the last few years alone or the fact this woman had the spitting attitude of his ex-wife, or it could just be because he didn’t really like her. At all. But his next move hadn’t been anticipated, or planned and quite frankly, the only reason for doing so was the intention of shutting her up. Lord, did she ever stop talking?
Gunner reached out and pushed her into the pool.
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