"Lying, cheating bastard," Chloe Stevens mumbled under her breath before taking another long pull from her icy strawberry drink. The delicious fruity concoction did little to help cool her down. In fact, it seemed to rile and fuel the dark side of her temper even more.
Shifting on her beachside bar stool, Chloe stirred her drink with her straw, blew an exaggerated breath and glanced around the majestic island of Ryuu. Emerald waves lapped gently against a bed of pristine white sand and created soft, soothing noises. Towering palm trees fringed the secluded cove, providing the eclectic mix of guests with their much-coveted privacy. Off in the distance she could see couples frolicking in the warm surf, sexual energy oozing off them as their seductive laughter lingered in the air. Warm exotic scents from flowers, salt water, and ... man curled around her and awakened her senses. Chloe drew the alluring aroma into her lungs, tasting and savoring the sweetness on the tip of her tongue before exhaling with a heavy sigh.
Sure the exotic island was beautiful, everything the brochure had promised, and sure she should be out enjoying the activities instead of plotting and strategizing ways to separate Michael Wilson's testicles from his body, but she couldn't seem to get her ex-lover out of her head.
As a zoologist working at York University in Toronto under the guidance of the charming, enigmatic Michael Wilson, the last place she expected to find herself was on a small island smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, searching for dragons. Dragons. Of all the ... The island might be called Ryuu, meaning dragon in Japanese, but that certainly didn't mean dragons inhabited it. Now or ever.
A slight breeze blew in off the water and rushed over her moist skin as Chloe pulled a red leatherlike swatch from her pocket, peeled away the protective cloth and ran it through her fingers. As far as she was concerned, sending her to the island in search of the legendary Ryuu dragon was just an excuse to get her out of the office so Michael could properly "initiate" the newest member of the organization into his team--his personal team, that is. Chloe scoffed, remembering her initiation all too well. Michael's new plaything was young, innocent, and oh so accommodating, a replica of Chloe herself. Chloe shook her head. Michael sure had a way of breaking in the good girls. Honestly, her biggest mistake wasn't in sleeping with her boss. Her biggest mistake was thinking about fairy-tale weddings and happily-ever-after. Let's see how happily-ever-after Michael was going to be without his testicles.
And speaking of fairy tales...
Legend had it that a dragon slumbered on the mountain towering the sandy island floor. But that's all it was ... a legend. For years rumors had circulated and garnished the fantasies of many people, so much so that a tall fence had been erected around the base of the mountain to keep the beast contained, according to the tale. Chloe suspected the real reason for the fence was to keep vacationers from exploring the dangerous cliffs. Over the last century the whispers had died down, until some crazed lunatic had recently touched down on Canadian soil carrying, what he claimed to be, part of a dragon's wing. Chloe examined the swatch again before rewrapping it and slipping it back into the pocket of her sundress. Truthfully, it looked like the caruncle from the throat of a wild turkey.
Even though numerous scientific tests performed at the university lab had ruled out that logical explanation, Chloe still believed otherwise. After all, secret genetic engineering experiments were growing at an alarming rate worldwide. One couldn't deny the possibility that she was in possession of a mutated caruncle. Although why one would want to do gene splicing with a turkey was beyond her.
Despite the studies on the sample, the truth was Chloe still couldn't positively identify the red swatch, with all the strange veinlike vessels spidering off in different directions, but she was pretty sure it wasn't a dragon's wing. Because dragons didn't exist, dammit. And she'd only been sent to the island on some wild-goose chase--or rather dragon chase--so her boss could have his wicked way with the new girl.
Obviously her boss had come to the same conclusions as she had--the swatch was nothing more than a mutated caruncle. Otherwise he'd be all over the island, seeking his fame and fortune with the rare, yet spectacular discovery. If there was one thing the last few months had taught Chloe, it was that her ex was a man of little character, a man who'd do anything to get ahead in the scientific world, even if that meant using extreme measures and excessive force in the field, much to Chloe's dismay. He was also a man who believed a woman's place was inside the lab, not in fieldwork, because they lacked the skill, strength and intelligence needed when going up against wild animals.
Sure he was quick to enlighten her to the fact that this was the opportunity she'd been waiting for, the opportunity to prove her abilities outside an academic setting, but they both knew it was a load of bull. She was merely a distraction he didn't need when breaking in his new plaything.
Honestly, Chloe would give her eyeteeth to discover a dragon on Ryuu. Then after she unveiled her discovery, she'd make her mark in the scientific world, and show her ex what she was really made of. What all women were made of.
Her anger sparked and she grunted something very unladylike. The hell with Michael and his ridiculous notion that dragons existed. She had two weeks on this beautiful island. Even though it was the off-season for tropical vacations, and there were very few guests at the singles resort, she might as well take advantage of her paid vacation and try to mingle with the fellow vacationers. Sure it was out of character for her. But maybe a little--or a lot--of hedonistic sex was just what this scientist needed to take her mind off matters. Yeah, it was time to let her long auburn hair down and indulge in a playtime before she went back to civilization and figured out her next career move, and how she was going to spend the rest of her life.
Deciding to do just that, she pulled her hair from its restrictive ponytail, shook out her locks and let them fall over her shoulders in a rebellious tumble. Then she removed the straw from her glass and downed what was left in one gulp.
"Can I get you another?"
Chloe tipped her chin and turned toward the deep, sexy voice. Gorgeous emerald green eyes edged in rich amber met her gaze. Taking her by surprise, her heart skipped a beat and her entire body moistened. Good God, she'd never seen eyes quite like those before. She looked past his shoulder but the bartender who'd served her earlier was nowhere to be found. Geez, she'd been so lost in her thoughts she hadn't realized a shift change had taken place. Her gaze moved back to the new replacement, taking the utmost pleasure in his roguish good looks, short dark hair and killer athletic body. It was easy to tell he was a local by his rich coloring and sun-kissed skin. As she studied his appearance, her nipples tightened and brushed against her thin sundress. The feeling was downright sensual and had her mind spinning an erotic adventure. Mr. Hot Bartender was dressed in a white shirt with a nametag pinned over one sculpted pectoral, and a low-slung pair of jeans that showed off hewn muscles. With a casual, laid-back, easy way about him, this guy took bad-boy bartender to the extreme.
As she slid her glass across the teak bar top, all thoughts of her ex-boss, his new plaything and dragon hunting disappeared quicker than her last daiquiri.
Just then two men sidled up to the bar and summoned the barkeep. With Chloe's lascivious mind still focused on Mr. Hot Bartender's rock-hard body, she was only half-listening to the conversation, but her ears immediately perked up when one of the men brought up the Ryuu dragon, and the bartender quickly went to work on dispelling the ridiculous legend.
As she watched him move with a casual nonchalance, her tongue darted out and scraped across her strawberry-soaked lips. His movements were so confidant, smooth and easy, it was almost as if he were gliding, or better yet, slow dancing around the small hut.
With muscles that hadn't come from any gym, he looked wild and unkempt, like he'd just crawled out of bed. Damned if she didn't want to crawl right back into it with him. He was the antithesis of her ex-boss really. What the hell had she seen in Michael anyway? Intuition told her this guy had more integrity in his little pinkie finger than Michael had in his whole body. In fact, this guy seemed self-assured, secure in his identity and certainly didn't appear to be the type who needed a menagerie of women to boost his ego. He looked sexy, untamed, and downright ... "scrumptious." Forget about taking advantage of the island. She'd rather take advantage of him.
As soon as the two men left with their drinks, the bartender turned back to her. "Scrumptious, huh?"
Dammit, she hadn't said that out loud, had she?
She tried for causal but failed. "Yeah, my drink ... it ... it was good, real good." Rattled by his close proximity and animalistic allure, her words came out broken, choppy, despite her efforts. Cripes, she'd been around hot guys before, so what was it about this one that had the ability to addle her logical brain?
"So you'd like another?"
Suddenly, a tingle on her arm drew her attention. Needing a moment of reprieve from his seductive pull, she examined the rare, long-horned beetle crawling over her flesh. She lightly squeezed its hard black shell between her thumb and forefinger, stood and carefully placed it on a nearby tree.
Satisfied that the beetle had been returned to nature unharmed, she twisted back around and reclaimed her seat in time to see the barkeep give her a look that she didn't quite understand. Ignoring it for the time being, her glance brushed over his nametag a second time before settling on his mesmerizing eyes. Benjared, aka, Mr. Hot Bartender leaned across the countertop and blatantly gave her a slow, lingering once-over. His observation halted and played over her breasts, and she wondered if he saw the telltale hardening of her nipples. His gaze travelled back to her face as he rolled her empty drink glass between his big palms.
"Or maybe you'd rather talk?" he asked. "You look like you have something on your mind."
She resisted the urge to laugh. Jesus, was she really that transparent?
He gave her a wickedly playful grin that curled her toes and dampened her panties. "So what do you say? Drink? Or talk?"
Hell, she didn't want to drink or talk. She wanted to play. And she wanted to be bad. Really, really bad. After all, being a good girl merely left her single, and with a job she certainly couldn't go back to.
She held her hand out. "It's nice to meet you, Benjared. I'm Chloe."
His rough hand curled around hers and brought on wild and wicked sensations. Her mind raced, and her body tingled right down to the tips of her toes. God, there was something so carnal and so primal about him that it had her burning from the inside out. "Call me, Jared. Jared Sani."
"Jared..." she murmured, trying out the name and wondering how it would sound on her lips when she screamed it during climax.