THE MUSE

Chapter 1

Cara

 

Cara hadn’t finished her rum and Coke when the stewardess had come to collect it.

“Ma’am, we are about to land. Can I take that from you?”

“No, you cannot. Can’t you see I have some left?” Cara responded.

“But, ma’am, we are about to land. We need your tray and seat in an upright position and we need to collect all loose items. It’s regulations,” the stewardess said with a forced smile.

Cara, who was already feeling the previous two drinks, decided that it wasn’t the tired stewardess’ fault. “Fine,” she conceded. And then dumped the half glass of rum and Coke down her throat. “But if I end up sloppy drunk, that’s on you,” she said pointing at the stewardess and handing her the empty cup.

The stewardess offered Cara another forced smile, collected the cup and walked away. Cara watched her go. She didn’t understand why the airline would serve drinks if people weren’t going to be allowed to enjoy them.

What? Did they think that she would spill it as they landed? Whoever thought that obviously didn’t know her. A drink was something sacred to Cara. She would no sooner lose a sip of it than to lose a best friend. And as a woman who worked as a beer distributor, she had protected a lot of best friends.

Turning her attention away from the stewardess, Cara looked out the window. The water was breathtaking. The blue was so light that she was sure that she could see the bottom. It was amazing and unlike anything she’d ever seen.

Was it worth her fighting her brother over her right to take a business trip to the Bahamas? Hell yes it was, she decided. And besides, in spite of what her entire family thought, her trip was all about work.

Okay, that wasn’t true. It wasn’t all about work. But it was enough about work that she could justify her trip.

Her plan? She was going to try to sell her family’s brew into the newly constructed hotel on Nassau. The marketing material for the hotel said that it had forty-two restaurants and bars plus free drinks served to those in the casino. Her family’s beer was currently only at a few local bars. Landing a contract like that would double their brewery’s income. The­ idea was so far beyond everyone’s wildest dreams that her family thought that she was just vacationing on the brewery’s dime.

Was that completely untrue? Not entirely. Cara knew it was a long shot that she would be able to sell the beer into the resort. But it wasn’t impossible. Why shouldn’t she be able to travel and expense it to the company? She was the one in charge of sales after all, wasn’t she? So if a trip to a luxury resort in the Bahamas during the on-season wasn’t a part of her job description, then she didn’t know what her job description was.

As the landing strip came into view, Cara braced herself. It wasn’t until the wheels touched that she realized just how strong her drinks were. They hadn’t skimped on the rum. She liked that. It meant that she would have a wonderful buzz as she went about the rest of her day.

Getting out of her seat was another story. Although the plane had stopped, for Cara, it kept moving. The trick was now to get her bag from the overhead compartment while hiding just how sloshed she was.

She wasn’t embarrassed by, what she would call, her pre-vacationing. It was just that there was a judgy ten-year-old girl across the aisle giving her a look. And as God as her witness, she wasn’t about to give the twit the satisfaction of seeing her stumble.

Leveling herself, she looked over at the judgmental little girl again. Her beady eyes were staring back at her. Cara made sure the kid’s parents weren’t watching and then stuck out her tongue giving her an ugly face. The little twit looked back shocked and then folded her arms with prissiness. Cara smiled knowing that she had won. This wasn’t the first time she had bested a ten-year-old and she was sure that it wouldn’t be the last.

Comfortable that she got the little church lady’s focus off of her, Cara got up and reached for the overhead compartment. The cabin really did feel like it was spinning. But steadying herself, she grabbed her bag, then with all of the grace of a hippo, retrieved it putting it in the aisle behind her. Nothing about the plane was made for big girls like her. That included the aisle and her big girl carry-on.

Despite all of the obstacles, when it was her time to move, she proceeded down the aisle towards the open door. When she got there she found something unexpected, stairs. What type of crazy airline didn’t skimp on the rum and then expected you to walk downstairs to the tarmac? It was like a crazy person had designed the flight.

In spite of the challenge, Cara took hold of her bag and the railing and then descended one step at a time. Was she regretting her third rum and Coke at this point? A little. But she knew that the prissy ten-year-old was somewhere behind her. It would be a cold day in hell before she would fall and give little Miss Judgy McJudgeson the satisfaction.

Taking one step at a time, eventually Cara was again on solid ground. Following the stream of passengers, she entered a bright yellow building. Heading through customs and then collecting her bags, she poured out onto the airport’s busy pickup area.

She had to admit, either a lot of the guys standing around were very hot or she was very drunk. After a moment she decided, why couldn’t it be both?

“Excuse me, how do I get a taxi?” she asked the dark-skinned young man who looked like he was chiseled from marble.

“I’ll get you one, ma’am,” he said in a singsong island accent.

Either his calling a taxi was the hottest thing she’d ever heard or she was very drunk. After a moment she decided, why couldn’t it be both?

“Thank you,” Cara said trying to decide what he would be like in bed. Amazing, was her conclusion before she got into a small minivan and the dark-skinned Adonis slid the door closed behind her. If these were the type of guys that she would run into during her stay on the island, she felt that this was going to be the best pretending-to-work vacation of her life.

“Where to, ma’am?” The taxi driver asked in a slightly more British accent.

“I’m going to the Baha Mar Resort. Do you know where that is? If not, I have the address.”

The man behind the wheel smiled. “I know where that is, ma’am. That’s the new big resort on the island. They’ve been rebuilding it for two years.”

“Have you been there?” Cara asked slipping into work mode.

“Not since the renovation. The resort is a big deal on the island, though. It was bought by some big international company based in Los Angeles. They spent $200 million renovating it. Could you even imagine so much money?” The driver asked.

Cara couldn’t. Certainly her family’s brewery had allowed her family a comfortable life, but the concept of so much money was foreign to her. It would be like a horse suddenly learning to talk, or her walking away from a full glass of beer. Such things were inconceivable and just didn’t make sense.

“Do you know when the hotel will be fully open?” Cara asked gathering as much inside information as she could.

“They say they are supposed to be open now,” he told her.

“Well, what they’re calling it is a soft open. That’s how I was able to stay there. But I kept looking for when the entire thing would be open and I couldn’t find it on their website.”

“I have a cousin who works there and he said that the grand opening is in the beginning of December.”

Cara did the math in her head. It was October which meant that December was… Um… One too many rum and Cokes to calculate. It was relatively soon. That was all that mattered. So that meant that she needed to find the manager in charge of ordering food and beverages, and she needed to do it quickly.

Cara sat back in her vinyl seat and shifted her attention out the window. Damn, this place was beautiful. She had never seen so many different colored flowers growing wildly in her life. This place truly felt like a tropical paradise. No wonder the guys here were also beautiful. How could anything grow up here and not be?

After a few minutes, the view changed from, lush green and a multitude of flowers, to an unobstructed view of the beach. Cara’s mouth dropped open at the sight. The sand was a pale yellow, and the waves lapping onto it were a brilliant pale blue. She had seen pictures but there was no way they could prepare her for seeing it in person. Boston had areas where the ocean touched the land, but it wasn’t until this moment that she truly understood what a beach was.

After a peaceful few minutes, the strip of beach was replaced by colorful, two-story, island homes. Some were light blue and pale yellow. Others were burnt orange and green. It certainly felt like another world as she drove to her hotel. And the endless shades of skin of the people walking the streets emphasized the difference even more.

“This is the cable beach strip. It is also known as the Bahamian Riviera,” Cara’s taxi driver told her.

Cara took a closer look as the buildings around them changed. On the right-hand side were small shops and a grocery store. On the left were increasingly larger hotels.

The minivan didn’t slow down until they approached what looked like a monstrosity. It was larger than anything Cara had considered. It kind of reminded her of the Roman Coliseum with a single archway connecting its two halves.

No wonder it had taken $200 million to renovate. The resort was practically its own city. It was the most impressive place that Cara had ever seen.

“Should I drop you off at the lobby?” Her taxi driver asked.

“Sure, that’ll be fine,” she replied hoping that it would be. Being a curvy girl who was still feeling her three rum and Cokes, she didn’t want to have to walk very far. Though, from the look of the size of the place, it didn’t seem like something she could avoid.

Having unloaded her bags at the entrance, Cara paid her driver giving him a generous tip.

“Thank you, ma’am. Here’s my card,” he said handing his card to her. “If you need to get around, give me a call. I also give tours of the island,” he said with a smile.

She looked down at the card finding his name. “Thanks, Monty,” she said politely before depositing the card into her purse and turning away.

As soon as she turned, another set of gentlemen collected her luggage and placed it on a bell hop’s cart.

“Oh, thank you,” she said feeling very taken care of.

Entering the lobby with a bellhop following her, she was completely taken aback. The open space was all white with white marble floors, three-foot wide white columns, and glistening white walls. The only things that weren’t white were the frames around the glass doors and chairs, and the beams across the ceiling. They were dark wood. Cara felt like she was in heaven.

“One person checking in?” The tan-skinned woman behind the desk asked.

“Yes, just me.”

“And your name?”

“Cara Reeder.”

The woman typed on her computer. “You are staying for four nights?”

“Yes,” Cara replied regretting that she couldn’t convince her father to let her stay longer.

“Your room number is 1609. Here is your key card. Enjoy your stay,” the woman said with a smile.

“Thank you.” Cara thought for a second. “Actually, I have a question.”

“What’s that?” The woman asked casually.

“What’s the name of your food and beverage manager?”

“Our food and beverage manager?” The woman said dropping her polished posture. “I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that before,” she said with a smile.

“I bet not,” Cara agreed. “I came to the island hoping to meet with him. It was the entire purpose of my trip.”

Cara knew that wasn’t completely true. The entire purpose of her trip was to get laid by a hot island dude. But in order of importance, meeting with the food and beverage manager was up there.

“You know what? I don’t know who that is,” the woman said allowing her island accent to sneak out. The woman then looked down the counter at a thick gentleman dressed in a business suit. “Mr. Rhamming, can you come here for a second?”

Looking up at her, the thick gentleman came over.

“Miss Reeder here is looking for the food and beverage manager. She has a meeting with him. Could you tell me who that is?”

Cara listened knowing that the woman hadn’t gotten it completely correct. She didn’t have a meeting with him, she was hoping to have one. She, however, appreciated the upgrade from unsolicited sales call to someone with an appointment.

“Yes. That would be Mr. Charles,” the thick man said. “Would you like me to call up to him to let him know that you’re here?”

“No, no. That’s fine. But if you can tell me where I can find his office, that would be helpful.”

“That’s not a problem. You can follow me,” he said leading Cara back down the counter to his computer.

Cara couldn’t believe her luck. She had honestly not expected to get even this far. The only plan she had was to find the manager’s office and then ask his secretary for an appointment. Either she would get one or she wouldn’t. But in either case, she would spend the rest of her time on the beach, or sitting in a lounge chair by the pool.

The thick man’s fingers sped across the keyboard. In a few seconds, they stopped.

“Mr. Charles can be found in office 227 B. You would take the elevator to the second floor, take a left to the end, and then take a right where you will see 227. There is a receptionist just inside who can then direct you to 227 B.”

“That is so helpful. Thank you very much!” Cara said even more grateful than she would’ve been if she wasn’t drunk. “Everyone here is so friendly. It’s amazing!”

“Thank you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No, you’ve been great. Oh, wait, yes there is.” Cara paused. “How do I find my room?”

Cara was going to ask him where the closest casino was with free drinks. But she decided that that might not have been the best follow up question. After all, Cara was a professional.

Following the thick man’s instructions, Cara maneuvered the maze of hallways to the elevator and then up to her room. Not only was the room nice, but it had a view of the ocean. It was simply incredible. She could never have imagined the sea having so many shades of blue.

More than that, she could see the beach side of the resort from where she stood. The only thing she could reference it to would be Disney World, or more precisely, a manicured water theme park.

Between the hotel and the beach seemed like endless pools. Each of the pools was surrounded by patches of palm trees, and on the far right was what looked like waterslides. The place was simply incredible.

Having arrived early in the day, Cara threw herself onto the bed and planned out her afternoon. Still overflowing with liquid confidence, she decided to get her work out of the way early. Why not head down there now, fight for an appointment, and give him her pitch before the day was done? Cara liked that idea. So, quickly unpacking, she gathered her material and headed down.

Descending in the elevator, she still wasn’t sure what exactly she would say. Yes, she knew prices and delivery models, but what was going to be her actual sales pitch? She didn’t know, but glowing bright red with confidence, she was sure that something would come to her when the time came.

Exiting onto the second floor, Cara wandered around until she came upon office 227. It was then that she felt the rush of the chase. Other than the free beer, there wasn’t much upside to her job. This exhilaration, however, was one.

Feeling her heart thump and the blood rush to her cheeks, she approached the receptionist just past the office entrance.

“Hi.” Cara looked down at the nameplate on the woman’s desk. “Melinda, is that how you pronounce it?”

The receptionist smiled. “That’s close enough. What can I do for you?”

Cara could feel her body tingle with excitement. “I’m wondering if I can step in and speak to Mr. Charles.”

Cara’s ears rung as she waited for a reply.

Melinda stared at her for a moment. “Do you have an appointment?”

Cara felt her chest tightened. She chuckled. “No. But I just flew in from Boston and I was really hoping that I could maybe stop in for a few minutes and talk with him.”

“What is this about?”

“It’s about beer,” Cara said with a devilish smile.

Melinda looked back confused. “Are you a distributor?”

“Yeah. I work with a brewery in Boston and I wanted to talk to him about the possibility of carrying our beer.”

“Okay. Why don’t you wait here and I’ll see if he’s available.”

Cara knew that this was game time. In a few moments, she was either going to be invited in or ushered out. Watching as Melinda left her desk and entered 227 B, she got a glimpse of Mr. Charles. The dark-skinned professional looking man had a mustache and goatee, and wore glasses. Staring at him as he sat at his desk, she could feel the future of her family’s company hanging in the balance. With every second that passed, her heart thumped louder.

It took less than thirty seconds for Melinda to return.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Charles is really busy. He asked if you can leave whatever material you have so that he can take a look at it when he gets a chance.”

Cara’s heart sunk. She had heard that before. Leaving material was always what the client suggested when they were trying to blow you off. It couldn’t be over so quickly, though. Cara had to figure out a way in.

“If he’s busy now, maybe I can set up an appointment with him tomorrow. After all, I did fly all the way from Boston just to see him.”

“You came in just to see him? Honey, you should’ve made an appointment. Mr. Charles is extremely busy this week with the hotel’s soft opening.”

“I probably should have made an appointment, but you know how things go. People are always more receptive when you’re there in person,” Cara said trying to sustain her momentum.

“No, I get that,” Melinda replied. “But he really is very busy this week. Important people are in from out of town.”

“I know, but isn’t there a way I could maybe slip in just for a few moments. I promise I won’t take up much of his time.”

“I would love to do that for you, especially since you’ve come from so far. But the best I can do is get your material and make sure he sees it.”

Cara was heartbroken. Sure, the meeting was just an excuse to get her parents to pay for her trip to the Bahamas, but there was no escaping her sense of failure. Yes, she was going to leave her marketing material with Melinda, but she had gone through this many times before. Leaving your material with the receptionist was like a boyfriend saying “let’s take a break and see what happens.” There was no chance of ever hearing from either of them again.

“Thank you. I really appreciate that,” Cara said forcing a smile.

Pulling out a few glossy one-sheets with tantalizing images of beer on it, she handed two sheets to Melinda and thanked her again.

Disappointed, she walked away and thought about what she was going to do next. Technically she had done what she had come to do. Certainly, her parents or brother weren’t expecting any more from her. In fact, Cara was pretty sure that they were expecting her to fail. It sucked that they were going to be proven right.

Not ready to return to her room, Cara strapped her satchel across her shoulders and decided to explore the hotel. It was all very grandiose looking. There was a lot of white marble and rich dark wood. It had a very indoor/ outdoor feel with open walls that headed towards the beach, yet the temperature was considerably cooler than it was two steps outside the hotel walls.

Winding the long hallways deeper into the hotel, the first thing that caught Cara’s attention was a bar. It wasn’t that she needed a drink, she told herself. She was still kind of on the clock. No, it was about surveying the bar’s layout. It was about scoping out the competition.

“I’ll have a double shot of tequila,” Cara told the man behind the bar.

Filling up a double shot glass, the bartender slid it in front of Cara and she gave him her room number. Cara looked at the filled glass, reconsidered her life’s choices, and then threw the tequila down her throat. It was incredibly smooth which meant that there was clearly going to be a twenty-five dollar charge on her tab.

“Also, can I get a beer? Whatever’s on tap is fine,” she said resigning herself to this being the beginning of the vacationing part of her pretending-to-be-working vacation.

For the next hour, Cara sat on the bar stool nursing her beer. She had to admit that the double shot of tequila might’ve been a little too much. She didn’t know what time it was but she was starting to feel like the 2 AM version of herself. It wasn’t that any guy would do, but really, any guy would do.

As Cara sat on her stool watching too many couples walk past the bar, Cara spotted someone she hadn’t expected. It was Mr. Charles. She was sure of it. And he was walking with someone who had to be one of the most gorgeous men that she had ever seen.

What was Cara supposed to do? Wasn’t this the universe presenting her with her opportunity? She could hurry over to him now, give him the entire sales pitch, and get a real answer before he got to where he needed to go. Was this a moment that she could pass up? She decided not.

Scrambling to her feet she realized just how drunk she was. This was not ideal. The ideal would have been her doing a presentation in his office while she was only a little buzzed. But, a woman does what she needs to do.

“Mr. Charles?” Cara said as she hurried over to him.

“Yes?” He said tersely, though Cara didn’t notice.

“I stopped by your office earlier. I was wondering if you would consider carrying one of our beers in your hotel. I work with a brewery in Boston, we’re award-winning, and I think that it would be a great addition to the hotel’s selection. It’s a very classy beer much like this resort.”

Mr. Charles paused staring at Cara. He looked at her strangely. “Are you drunk?”

“Who, me? No! Why would you think that? I was, however, sampling the selection you have at your bar, you know, for business purposes. But, by no means would I ever approach you drunk,” she said sidestepping so much that she may as well have been dancing.

Mr. Charles gave her a look like he didn’t believe her but decided to let it go. “If you would like us to consider your product, you can leave material about it with my receptionist.”

“I did that, and I tried to make an appointment. It seems that you’re really busy and can’t fit me in.”

“That is correct, Ms.…, I’m sorry, what is your name?”

“It’s Cara. Cara Reeder.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Reeder. I am very busy this week as you can see,” he said gesturing to the man next to him. “But if you leave your material with my receptionist, I’ll take a look at it and get back to you at my earliest convenience.”

“That’s great, and I appreciate that. It’s just that I flew in from Boston just to meet with you, and I was hoping I would be able to do that before I left.”

“You flew in from Boston just meet with me?”

Cara felt a sense of hope enter her.

“You really should have made an appointment,” Mr. Charles said before escorting the gorgeous man away.

“Yeah, that’s what your assistant said,” Cara muttered under her breath as she watched the two men go.

Well, it was official. The work part of her pretending-to-work vacation was done. She was never going to hear from that man again. There was only one thing to do now and that was, slip into a bathing suit, order a few rum punches by the pool, and get herself laid.

On her way back to her room, she realized just how drunk she was. It was either that or the hotel was built on a slope. In her room, she got undressed and then went searching for her one piece. With it in hand, she got a better idea. Why not wear her bikini? She had gone through the humiliation of bikini shopping, didn’t she have to wear the result?

Slipping on the tiny piece of cloth, she then grabbed a towel, her shades, and flip-flops, and headed down. Her priority was to forget everything that had just happened. Finding the right pool and the right handsome stranger was essential for that.

Heading outside, Cara circled the grounds. There certainly were a lot of pools. Learning that all of them were basically the same, she instead focused on the eye candy surrounding them.