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Pleasing Mr. Parker: Chapter 8

Maria

I was starting a collection for pigeon awards.”

“You did not!” Harley slams a hand over her mouth and falls back onto my bed in a fit of giggles.

“Did too.” I smirk as I pull a shirt from underneath her before it gets wrinkled.

“I wish I could’ve seen his face.”

“He looked like he’d just swallowed a fart.”

“Maria!” Harley shrieks and kicks her legs in the air as she laughs. “I’ve never heard you use such profanities before.”

I fold the shirt and place it in my suitcase. “He brings it out of me. I find him so…” I screw up my face and let out a tiny scream.

“Demanding?”

“Yes!”

“Irritating?”

“Yes!”

“Sexy?”

“Ye—No! God, Harley!” I turn to her. She’s rolled to lie on her front and is looking at me with a grin on her face.

“It’s okay, you can admit it. I notice these things.”

I stare at her. “At what point in our conversation did you get the insane idea that I think he’s sexy?” I grab a skirt and throw it into my case.

“Oh, I didn’t get it from anything you said. It’s what you didn’t say. That, and the way your cheeks flush when you say his name.”

“They do not.”

I run my fingertips over my cheeks. They are hot, but that’s because I’m running around my apartment trying to pack for this trip to The Bahamas. Packing always makes me stressed.

Too many memories.

“And those.” Harley tilts her head to my chest.

I pull my cardigan around me, covering the peaks of my nipples, which are trying to fight their way out of my thin tank top.

“It’s cold in here,” I mutter.

“They only did it when you started talking about him.” She arches a brow at me and then smiles. “Fine. Live in denial. Just remember, I want front row seats at your wedding.”

I drop the swimsuit I’m about to pack, muttering as I bend to scoop it up.

Harley grins at me.

“I’m kidding! Sort of, a little bit, okay, not at all.” She sighs. “He’s a billionaire, Maria. You’ve seen how he runs the hotel. You would have an amazing wedding. I’m not missing it.”

She hops off the bed and heads over to my wardrobe, rummaging around and then coming back armed with the tiniest bikini I own. It’s a red one that ties up. Completely inappropriate for a work trip. I didn’t even know I still had it. It’s from a girls’ holiday I took years ago. I doubt it even still fits.

Harley stuffs it into my case and winks at me.

“Ooh, talking about the hotel. Don’t forget Emily’s fundraising gala is the week after you get back.”

“How could I forget?” I roll my eyes. It’s all the team at the spa have spoken about since I started working there. Apparently, the galas that Emily hosts in The Songbird, with Griffin’s approval, are legendary.

“I’ve already sorted it with Will. He’s going to fix us up with outfits from the hotel boutiques.”

“Should I ask whether that’s allowed?” I smirk at Harley.

She places her finger to her lips.

”Ssh, we do it every time. We scratch their backs, they scratch ours. It’s all good.”

“If you say so.” I laugh as I close the lid of my suitcase and zip it up.


Todd: I’m so sorry, Maria. I’ll be on the phone as much as you need me for the meeting. Let me make it up to you with dinner when you get back.

I shake my head as I read the other new messages I received while on the flight. Todd called before I left my apartment to say he was no longer coming—some family emergency he needed to help with. I’m not angry. These things happen. Instead, I made the most of the early morning champagne on offer in the car Griffin sent. As much as him acting like a controlling ass rubs me up the wrong way, the car was a welcome sight following my five o’clock alarm.

I lean my head against the cool leather of the car sent to collect me from San Andros airport—also courtesy of Griffin. The sun in the azure blue sky shines brightly through the window, its heat warming my skin through the glass. There are much worse places I’ve been in the name of business. I’m heading to a meeting with the grower this afternoon, and because my flight back isn’t until tomorrow morning, I’ll get the evening to enjoy to myself.

The car pulls up to the hotel and I gasp internally, excitement bubbling in my chest as the driver comes to open the door for me.

Hotel Atlantica is beautiful.

A large, colonial style building makes up the main reception, with smaller, low-level wings of guest rooms winding off into lush tropical gardens. I almost wish Griffin were here so I could see his reaction. It’s completely different to the old-style grandeur of The Songbird, but beautiful all the same.

”Ms. Taylor?”

“Yes… oh, I’m sorry,” I apologize to the driver, who has already unloaded my case.

“Please, don’t apologize. This is where I bid you farewell, and a safe stay.” He nods at me with a friendly smile.

“Thank you so much.”

He gets in the car and drives off. I take hold of my suitcase and walk into the open foyer, across the shiny marble floor, its pink and cream hues like the inside of a beautiful shell.

It really is stunning.

“Madam, allow me, please.” A staff member in a smart, deep green suit arrives and takes my suitcase from me. I thank him as he places it on a brass trolley next to a deep tan leather holdall. “Please, check in, and I will take this to your room for you.”

“Okay. Thank you.” I head over to the large reception desk, where a young woman is smiling at me.

“Welcome to Atlantica. I’m Lori. Are you checking in?”

“Yes. Thank you so much.”

I smile back as I rest my hands on the cool marble desk. A tropical breeze flows through the open-plan lobby and my shoulders relax. New York feels a million miles away.

“I have a booking under Taylor,” I say to Lori.

“Ah, yes.” Her smile grows. “I’ll take you to your room.”

She hasn’t even typed anything into her computer. I’m impressed if she can remember where each newly arriving guest for the day is staying without needing to consult a booking system. I wonder if we can adopt a similar welcome at The Songbird. It would enhance the guest experience and feeling of being a valued customer.

I follow her along an outdoor marble path that snakes through beautiful, fragrant yellow and white frangipani bushes. My eyes flutter closed with their scent—pure, bright, and ethereal. It pulls me back to one of the first ever aromatherapy blends I made for myself when I was a teenager.

“Here you are,” Lori says, stopping in front of a door and inserting a key card to open it.

“I think there must have been a mistake.” I look from side to side at the row of individual thatched huts we’ve stopped in front of. The trolley of luggage has arrived, and the young man takes the tan leather holdall off first and walks to the hut next door.

“No mistake.” Lori smiles, bringing my attention back to her.

I glance up at her and then side to side again. I owe Harley a night of cocktails after this. She’s booked me a private hut… this is incredible.

Lori motions with her hand for me to enter first. She gives me a tour of the room, and I run my hand over the voile drapes of the giant four-poster bed as she explains about the 24-hour room service and concierge service.

“The pool is shared with the eight villas in this row.”

“I’m sorry?” I stare at her with wide eyes. “Pool?”

She walks over to the back wall and presses a button on the wall. The large white curtain slides back effortlessly to reveal a small private deck with lounger, and the clearest water stretching from side to side, like a meandering river running between all eight huts. Beyond it, pale sand, and the shimmering turquoise of the ocean.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

My stomach flutters. I’m so thankful I packed a bathing suit. A swim in there tonight, under the stars will be incredible. That’s one thing I’m missing since leaving California—the water. And the way the air by the coast is so clear… so calming.

As soon as Lori leaves and my case is delivered, I step out of my heels and pad barefoot out onto the deck, dropping to sit on the ground with my feet dipping into the warm water. I tilt my face up to the morning sun and take a deep breath, tranquility seeping into my pores with each lick of the sun’s ray on my skin.

“This is like a dream.” I sigh, leaning back on my hands and closing my eyes.

“Breath-taking, isn’t it?”

What the…?

My hand flies to my chest where my heart has just leaped into my throat, and I gasp, snapping my eyes open.

I lean forward around the dividing bamboo screen, peering to the deck of the next-door hut. I don’t have to look to confirm it, though.

I would know that voice anywhere.

“Quickly turning into a nightmare!” I huff as I stare into crystal-blue eyes. They’re even bluer here, inviting like cool pools of water on a sweltering day. Maybe it’s a trick of the light, and it’s the ocean reflecting off them or something.

“How was your flight?” Griffin asks from his position on the next-door deck before he looks away, making the mesmerizing blue pools disappear from my sight.

I can’t answer him. I stare out at the ocean and force myself to take deep breaths, trying to pull my body temperature down to an acceptable level now that my blood has been set boiling.

How does he do it?

Manage to be the most irritating, pig-headed, self-assured, egotistical bastard I’ve ever met? All without a hair out of place. It comes so naturally to him. It is him.

I was even starting to think he wasn’t that bad. The way he lightened up when he made the joke about me calling Reed a baboon in his office. Sending the luxury car to take me to the airport this morning. Insisting I don’t pay for company lunches myself. I was beginning to see a likeable, charming side of Griffin Parker, which everyone else seems to benefit from, except for me.

But it was merely a fleeting figment of an idealistic imagination.

I study him from the corner of my eye. He’s standing, looking out toward the ocean, hands resting on his hips. He’s still in a full, light gray suit. He must be baking. It’s still early, but the humidity is unmistakable in the surrounding air.

“What are you doing here?” I stop paddling my feet in the pool and stand up, walking to the edge of my deck closest to his.

“I heard Todd couldn’t make it.” His eyes stay trained on the ocean, his dark hair shining in the sunlight.

“Family emergency,” I reply.

“That’s unfortunate.” His lips stay pressed into a firm line.

“You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?” I fight to keep my voice even as my body tenses. I’ll be damned if I give the smug asshole the satisfaction of knowing he’s affecting me.

This is another power play. One further example of what a control freak he is.

At first, I wondered if it was me. If I gave him any reason to doubt my ability to do the job. Gave him cause for concern, somehow. But now I know it’s just Griffin. Griffin control-freak Parker. Because heaven forbid anyone can do something as well as him.

He turns to me, his eyes landing straight on mine. Butterflies set loose in my stomach, swirling and dancing with sudden vigor. God, it must be the plane food, or the champagne from this morning disagreeing with me.

“I have some personal business to attend to here. It made sense to move my trip to today so I can accompany you to the meeting—make sure you don’t miss Todd.” He juts his chin forward as he says ‘Todd,’ his eyes darkening as he watches me, as if waiting for a reaction.

I swallow down the butterflies which are now attempting to shoot up into my throat.

“Well, you’re certainly not him. But we’ll manage.”

A muscle in his jaw ticks as he looks at me, pinning me to the spot with his blue gaze.

“Why don’t you order some breakfast, Maria? I have calls to make. We leave in two hours.” He turns, effectively dismissing me.

“Fine,” I snap at his back.

He goes inside his room, then I head inside mine.

I stomp over to the bed, flopping down and grabbing a cushion.

Then I scream into it.


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