Book 2 in the Hotel Temptation Series
USA TODAY bestselling author Caitlin Crews delivers with the second smoking-hot installment in her Hotel Temptation series!
Maya Martin’s been a very good girl… Now she’s learning to be bad!
Ditched at the altar by a fiancé who accuses her of being boring in bed, prim lawyer Maya Martin goes on a solo Amalfi Coast honeymoon with one goal in mind: proving her ex wrong! And when she meets tattooed, hard-bodied Charlie Teller, he seems just the man for the job.
He’s so hot it’s criminal! From his muscled chest to his powerful thighs, from his low-slung jeans to his scuffed boots, Charlie is no uptight suit. And he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty—whether it’s repairing fences or making Maya moan against the stone walls of an ancient Italian villa. But is Charlie really who he appears to be? He’s a man of few words, though they’re all the right ones!
Making love under the Italian sun, exploring each other, satisfying their every desire…Charlie’s helping Maya unleash her wild side…over and over again! What happens when she finds out who he is and where he comes from? Will her feelings change? Can lust turn into love, even if he’s been hiding the truth?
Sexy. Passionate. Bold. Discover Harlequin Dare, a new line of fun, edgy and sexually explicit romances for the fearless female.
Everyone warned her not to go to Italy.
They said it was a bad gut reaction that she would regret, bitterly.
“It will be like a funeral march,” Maya Martin’s older sister, Melinda, had asserted, her familiar body vibrating with the force of her outrage that her sister had been treated so shabbily. Maya could relate. She had been in a constant state of outrage—or maybe it was fury, possibly covering up something like grief—ever since Ethan had made his ugly little announcement and ruined all of the plans Maya had made. For her wedding and her life. “You can’t possibly take your own honeymoon trip alone. It will make you crazy.”
“More crazy than being left at the altar? Almost literally?” Maya had retorted, standing there with her hair and makeup exquisite and ready for the ceremony her father had canceled after it became clear Ethan couldn’t be reasoned with. “Because that’s hard to imagine.”
Melinda had made a face. But the facts were simple and incontrovertible.
Ethan, who Maya had been set to marry that very day, was not in love.
Not with Maya, anyway.
“We’ve always been best friends before we were anything else,” he had said, in his usual warm way, his hazel eyes bright and clear, not tormented. That part had seemed significant later. “Haven’t we?”
Maya had been sitting in the pretty silk bathrobe she’d bought for precisely that purpose: getting ready the morning of her wedding. Her hair was finally done. Her makeup was pristine and perfect for photos. She’d been about to step into her lovely white dress when Ethan had talked himself past her mother and sister, even though everyone knew it was bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony and the Martins were nothing if not sticklers for convention.
Everyone was correct. It was very bad luck.
“Of course we’re best friends,” Maya had said, feeling warm and happy, shot straight through with sweetness.
It made her feel sick now.
She hadn’t seen it coming. She’d been thinking about how she and Ethan had started together at the same Seven Sisters firm in Toronto after their articling placements. They’d worked on cases together. They’d grown closer and closer. Eventually, all those late nights and weekends had led to more. A year after that, they’d moved into a condo in chic, trendy Yorkville together. When Ethan had proposed six months later, it had seemed like the next, perfect, logical step.
Maya’s life had always gone according to plan. As a Martin, Maya had been expected to excel from her earliest days in Toronto’s tony Lawrence Park neighborhood, through her prelaw studies at McGill in Montreal, straight on to law school at the University of Toronto, a plum articleship with one of her father’s impressive friends and into her current place as a senior associate at one of Canada’s best law firms.
Ethan fit right in. He was successful, ambitious and attractive. Their life together was filled with shared interests, from work to working out, the odd minibreak when schedules allowed and a very clear focus on how to build the perfect future together.
Maya and Ethan made sense. It was that simple.
“I know I can tell you this, though the timing is off,” Ethan had said that morning. He’d come to sit next to her on the sofa in her suite at the Four Seasons in Yorkville with its view out over the city. He’d taken her hands in his, his thumb brushing the cushion-cut halo diamond from Birks he’d placed there himself when he’d proposed at one of their favorite restaurants. “I’ve fallen in love, Maya.”
She still hadn’t gotten it. She’d been focused on the plan. The future they’d carefully plotted out together over dinners and on long runs. First they would both make partner at their top-tier law firm. Only when that was nailed down would they move to a tony suburb like Rosedale or Lawrence Park to start their own family and continue the cycle of Martin excellence. Martins were lawyers, doctors like Melinda, professors like their cousins or CEOs like their father. Their lives were duly glittering because they worked hard and excelled at everything they did.
So Maya had only sat there, smiling softly at the man she’d expected to marry, practice law with, make babies with and glitter with, because Martins didn’t suffer hideous public humiliations. Martins didn’t make mistakes.
“Neither one of us meant it to happen,” Ethan was saying in that engaging way of his that helped him win cases. “Both Lorraine and I feel sick at how this will hurt you, but we were powerless. People fall in love sometimes, even if it’s inconvenient.”
Maya had finally stopped smiling then, when he’d said her oldest friend’s name. “What? Lorraine?”
“In time,” Ethan had said in that plummy, confident voice that was half the reason Maya had been so enamored of him in the first place, “we think you’ll agree that this is actually for the best.”
What happened after that was a bit of a merciful blur.
There were guests waiting—family and friends from all over Canada and abroad—but Maya’s father had dealt with that in his severe way that brooked no argument or follow-up questions.
There was the dress that Maya and her mother and sister had picked out together, exactly the kind of fairytale gown Martin girls deserved to wear. Maya had tried on the winner while her mother had looked proud for once and Melinda had smiled, no doubt remembering her own triumphant wedding. Maya was carrying on the Martin family tradition of marrying well and living better, and the dress was a beautiful indulgence to mark the occasion.
She had secretly loved that dress and not because it “set the right tone,” according to her chilly mother. She had imagined herself wearing it, sweeping down the aisle and then dancing the night away at the reception, with all that white surrounding her like a gift.
Now she wanted to burn it.
The details were fuzzy, once it was clear that Ethan was deadly serious, that he couldn’t be talked out of it, that he was really, truly calling off his own wedding a few hours before the ceremony.
But what Maya really remembered were the things Ethan had said when he had stopped pretending to worry about Maya’s feelings. When he made it clear, at last, that he hadn’t worried about Maya’s feelings in a long while—or, possibly, ever.
“Come on, Maya,” he had thrown at her, his lip curling into a sneer that made him look like a complete stranger. The kind of stranger who might sleep with his fiancée’s best friend and call off his own wedding. “You like your sex boring and vanilla, and that’s fine. That’s your right. But ultimately, I’m not willing to shackle myself to someone who can’t satisfy my needs.”
“Your needs?” Maya had been on her feet by then. They’d been going around and around for hours, though the damage had already been done. She’d thrown his ring at his head like the cliché she’d never dreamed she’d become. Papa had made the announcement in the chapel, filled already with their friends, their families and, most embarrassingly, their business associates. “What does that mean, Ethan? Lorraine pretends to like anal? She indulges your heretofore-unknown foot fetish? Or, let me guess, she dresses up like a little girl and calls you daddy. Is that what you like? Because you told me you liked a grown woman, not an overgrown child whose life is and always will be a disaster of her own making.”
“I understand your childish need to swipe at me,” Ethan had said with great dignity, as if he had the moral high ground. “I deserve it, I suppose. But I won’t allow you to talk about Lorraine like that.”
That hadn’t helped.
But it wasn’t until Ethan had slunk out, under direct physical threat from Maya’s normally icy-cold mother, that the Lorraine part really sunk in.
Lorraine had been Maya’s roommate at McGill. Maya had tended to her through all the emotional upheavals Lorraine had suffered over the years, from the jobs she’d lost to the relationships she’d sabotaged. Maya had given Lorraine a place to sleep when she’d been evicted, had given her money when she was short and had gotten in more fights with Ethan than she could count over what he’d called her “obsession with that albatross around your neck.” Maya had even made Lorraine her maid of honor over her sister, because she’d thought her fragile, thin-skinned friend would have had a breakdown otherwise.
“I don’t want her to feel left out,” Maya had told Melinda, who was older than Maya by four years and had witnessed many Lorraine fits and breakdowns over the years. “You know how destructive she can be.”
The truth was, even Maya hadn’t known Lorraine was this destructive.
What made it worse was that Melinda had understood, even though Maya had been her maid of honor when Melinda had married Edward years ago. And now Maya was left to feel as horrified about that decision as every other one she had ever made concerning Lorraine.
She honestly didn’t know which part of the equation made her feel more ill. Ethan. Lorraine. Or her own unforgivable blindness.
“I think the worst thing you can do right now is run off by yourself somewhere,” her mother had said much later that terrible day, when Maya seized on the Italy thing like the lifeline it was. Mother had reverted to her usual crisp, icy demeanor, as if nothing untoward had happened—or nothing she couldn’t arrange to her satisfaction, eventually. “What you need to do is come home. You can stay with your father and me until we figure out how best to handle this.”
Maya had still been wearing her wedding hair, because nothing short of a tornado could make the elaborate coiffure move. She’d changed into jeans and a T-shirt long before, so she could wear something other than her fancy wedding lingerie while she canceled everything. And do things like talk to the guests who had come so far to see a wedding that would never happen.
She had been humiliated. Furious. So much of both that she couldn’t see a path through it. She couldn’t imagine how she ever wouldn’t tremble with all that rage and horror.
But what she hadn’t been, she’d realized with a sick sort of lurch deep inside as the day edged into evening on that late November day she already wanted to forget, was as heartbroken as she surely should have been.
Maybe that was why it was a little too easy for her to slip into her usual mode as one of her firm’s rising stars.
As an attorney she was decisive. Correct. And never ever emotional.
Exactly the Martin daughter her parents expected her to be.
“I’m not going to move out of my condo or slink off back home to my parents,” she said, the decision coming to her in a flash. A flash that she knew would irritate Ethan, which made it even better. She was standing in the corner of the hotel suite—the honeymoon suite, of course, just to salt the wound—staring out at Toronto there at her feet. Like it was mocking her. “If Ethan wants to run off with Lorraine, he’s welcome to do so. That will involve him moving out, not me. And I would rather he do that when I’m not around.”
“If that’s what you want,” her mother said in an overly patient way, as if Maya was acting irrationally. It set Maya’s teeth on edge, but she’d already done more yelling today than she had in years. Maybe ever. She wasn’t going to give into the urge for more when all it did was make her throat hurt. “But I don’t see what good it will do you to run off to a foreign country—”
“We booked a month’s holiday on the Amalfi coast,” Maya said, with the bedrock certainty deep inside her that she thought might be entirely made of fury and rage. “It will be the first vacation I’ve taken since law school. Yes, it was supposed to be our honeymoon. But I’m not giving it up just because Ethan turned out to be an asshole.”
No one had supported this decision. Melinda had argued against it. She’d recruited her engineer husband to do the same. Her parents had been deeply opposed, nearly frigid in their distaste for Maya’s plan. Everyone had argued at her, yet had shied away from addressing the elephant in the room—which was that clearly, her decision-making was faulty.
Maya had stuck to her guns, faulty or not. She needed to go away. She needed to put as much distance between this debacle and whatever was on the other side of it. She needed to figure out a new path, a new plan, and she couldn’t do that here in the wreckage of the old.
She had flatly refused to see Lorraine. She had declined the opportunity to speak to Ethan further when he’d reappeared outside the hotel suite. She’d had her father inform him that she would be using both the plane tickets they’d booked and the hotel—a charming boutique hotel in the exclusive St. George portfolio—and he could take the opportunity of her absence to remove himself and all evidence of his existence from their condo.
Papa had reported back that Ethan hadn’t taken the news well, just as Maya had hoped.
And Papa had allowed himself a slight smile while he’d shared that with the family, which was as close to violence as Maya’s stern, dignified father had ever gotten to her knowledge.
The great thing about her decision to leave Toronto, she reflected the following evening when she was at cruising altitude over the Atlantic Ocean with an empty seat next to her, was that no one was there to stare at her and ask her how she felt. About anything. She was just another woman on a plane, blessedly anonymous and with no reason to die of her own embarrassment.
She landed in Frankfurt on Monday morning, then transferred to another flight down into Naples in Italy. By the time her taxi delivered her to the cliffside town on the Amalfi coast where she’d be spending the next month suspended over the glorious Tyrrhenian Sea, she was dead on her feet.
She hardly noticed her surroundings. She had the faintest notion of crisp, white walls and a pink and blue sunset beyond the lobby, but it took all her energy to focus on the chic, smiling woman behind the front desk.
“You are booked into the honeymoon suite, signora,” the woman said in charmingly accented English. “Yet you appear to be traveling alone…?”
Maya stared back at her. She had been traveling for close to twenty-four hours, all told. She had suffered the greatest humiliation of her life and she wasn’t sure she’d even scratched the surface of processing that. She had lost her closest friend and her fiancé in one fell swoop, and the real tragedy was that they hadn’t died in a freak accident. She couldn’t mourn them when they’d betrayed her.
They were both quite alive, apparently perfectly happy, and had each other to lean on.
It was Maya who had to deal with the mess they’d made, alone.
All that and the Venetian mirrors behind the front desk reminded her that she had left her hair in its wedding style, tamed into an elegant chignon that twenty-four hours of airplanes and airports hadn’t so much as dented.
She moved her glare from that hair—a walking monument to her humiliation that she was going to have to deal with as soon as possible—to the poor woman standing at the desk, waiting patiently for her answer.
“It will just be me,” she said.
And offered no further explanation.
After a beat, the woman nodded. “Of course, signora.”
Maya followed the porter up several sets of stairs that felt like an assault on her already overexhausted system, then down a graceful, soothing hallway. He threw open the doors at the far end, then ushered her into a set of airy, sweeping rooms, bright white with blue accents, and sunset views at every turn.
She saw the sea before her and the darkening sky above. It was beyond pretty, but she couldn’t really take it in. When the doors finally closed behind her, she threw herself across the four-poster king bed in the bedroom, fully clothed, and slept like the dead.
And when she woke up the next morning, she was in Italy, a world away from Toronto.
That was the good news.
The bad news was that she hadn’t imagined the debacle of her wedding day. There was no ring on her finger any longer, and she frowned down at the place it had been and the dent that was still in her skin. She took herself off to the washroom, scowled at herself in the mirror and applied herself to a long, restorative shower and then returning her hair to its natural state. When it was finally the cloud of black curls around her face that she preferred, springy and free and big, she padded back out to the main room. Then, at last, she pushed her way through the French doors onto the balcony that ran the length of her suite.
And only then, overlooking the stunning, impossible stretch of blue before her that was the Gulf of Salerno rolling into the Tyrrhenian Sea and on to forever on this crisp late November morning, did she take a real, deep breath.
Then another. And another, until she started to feel, if not herself, something other than the prickly ball of horror and humiliation she’d been since Saturday.
Ethan had always been obsessed with itineraries, so the first thing Maya did after a restorative espresso or three was wander out into the ancient village clinging vertically to the side of the steep cliff. With no clear idea of where she was heading or what she ought to do. She wandered down old, uneven stone staircases hewn into the side of the mountains until she found the rocky shore. Then she wandered up again, moving from shop to shop. Some were closed in deference to the off-season, but she had no trouble finding a place to sit and have another espresso with a pastry she couldn’t name but tasted like heaven. She spent the morning basking in the Italian sunshine, worrying not at all about the top-ten-sights-to-see lists that Ethan would have brandished before them, forcing them to march quickly from one to the next for fear that they might miss out.
And it was while she was having a peaceful lunch, on a terrace overlooking the village and the sea and more cliffside villages in the distance with clouds rolling in, that she took a good hard look at what remained of her life.
Her father had given Ethan a week to move out. When she returned to Toronto, Maya planned to live in the condo they’d found and chosen, with all the locks changed and no trace of him around to remind her what an idiot she’d been. A better person would want to talk to him at some point, she thought as she stared out at the rolling blue waves. A good, decent person would try to find a little empathy in her somewhere, surely, for two people she had loved for years.
Maybe not today. But someday.
Maya didn’t think she had it in her. She had yet to cry more than a few appalling tears of rage when she’d been fighting with Ethan. When she’d still imagined she could argue him to the altar.
But she hadn’t really cried, and that felt a lot like proof that he had been right to leave her. Wouldn’t a normal person cry in a situation like this? Shouldn’t she have been lying in the crucifixion position in a dark room somewhere? For weeks?
Had she brought all of this on herself?
But she couldn’t really grapple with that, it turned out. Because the one thing that kept tumbling around and around in her head was the fact he’d called her boring in bed. Repeatedly. There had been a comment about preferring her vibrator to a flesh-and-blood man. And he’d followed that up by calling her “boring and vanilla,” again, when he’d been the one who’d had all those rules. The showers they had to take before sex and after, the scheduling, the places she could and couldn’t touch—
She suspected that the emotional wallop of what had happened, and so spectacularly, would land sooner or later.
But Maya had always been a woman of action, not feelings. She couldn’t do anything about the embarrassment she’d suffered or what waited for her when she got back to Toronto after New Year’s. She couldn’t fix what Ethan and Lorraine had broken.
What she could do, however, was address the boring sex allegation to her own satisfaction. She’d always thought the sex they’d had together was fun, if not as frequent as they both claimed to want—yet did nothing to change. Before Ethan, she’d always liked sex, like anyone else. It was never as ruin-your-life, scream-for-mercy crazy as movies and books and Lorraine always claimed it ought to have been, but that was life, wasn’t it? Always a bit duller in practice than in imagination.
But she had no intention of Miss Havisham-ing herself. That was letting Ethan win, and she refused to allow that to happen. She was going to prove to herself that if there had been someone boring in their bed, it hadn’t been her.
Maya decided then and there that she was going to go out and have all kinds of sex that the fastidious Ethan she’d thought she’d known would have found revolting.
Her life was already ruined, but who knew? Maybe she’d learn that screaming for mercy was a lot more fun than it sounded.
It certainly wouldn’t be boring.
There was an extra little swing in her step when she headed back up the cliffside, following one long, medieval staircase after another. She was out of breath when she got to the top again but exhilarated as she made her way back onto the grounds of her hotel. It loomed up before her, a deep magenta color, graceful and pretty. She admired the tiered gardens, bursting with bougainvillea and other flowers she couldn’t identify at a glance.
Just as she admired the man working on a fence on the tier closest to her.
He wasn’t the kind of man Maya usually found attractive—but then, it was possible she’d spent a lot of time liking things because she thought she should, not because she truly, deeply liked them. The worker before her was beautiful in the way the rocky shore here was beautiful, hard and rough and more than a little disreputable. He was stripped to the waist though the day wasn’t overly warm, showing off a hard, muscled torso that could have been sculpted from marble. Maya’s mouth went dry as her gaze traced over the tattoos that wrapped around one bicep, trailed over one shoulder, and made his wide, tough back into a work of art.
His jeans hung low on his hips, and she spent a little longer than necessary admiring the taut curve of his ass, his powerful thighs and even the scuffed boots on his feet.
Heat flashed through her, the first thing that had penetrated the shield of ice and temper she’d wrapped around her since Ethan had told her he was in love with Lorraine.
Maya grabbed on to it. Hard.
The man was sweating in the hot Italian sun, which only seemed to make his shaggy, close-cropped blond hair gleam like gold. He wore a tawny sort of beard and a pair of battered work gloves, and when he swung around to look at her as if he’d felt her standing there, she felt herself shiver into goosebumps.
Because his eyes were as blue as the Italian sky and the sea all around them.
But far more dangerous.
Maya had always maintained certain standards. Her family’s expectations had always been clear and she had always aimed to exceed them. Martins were the best, attracted the best and did the best. Even Ethan had been a part of her same pursuit of excellence. He had been as driven as she was, as successful. He was everything Maya had wanted in a man, from his career to his trim, smooth runner’s body.
The man before her did not look like he was a runner. He looked like the words rough and tumble had been created specifically for him.
“Take a picture, babe,” the man said in the kind of American accent that did things to Maya’s insides.
She felt…syrupy. Melting hot, like butter. She couldn’t think of anything she liked less than being called babe, especially by a stranger, but this man somehow made it feel delicious, not derogatory.
That was the old Maya, she reminded herself. The Maya who had been left so publicly was gone. She’d died right around the time she’d had to cancel her own wedding.
This new Maya didn’t have to worry about what was good for her. She didn’t have to concern herself with her reputation or what her parents would think. She didn’t have to care if anyone would judge her or what they might say or what her choice of man showed about her to the people who were always watching, always commenting, always looking for chinks in Maya’s armor or ways to sandbag her success.
She had no armor here. And better still, she was the only person in Italy who knew who she was, what she’d left behind or even that she was supposed to be sad and broken in the first place.
And fuck Ethan and Lorraine, too.
“All right,” she heard herself say, like a random person with no baggage. She fished her mobile out of her pocket and held it up before her, smiled at him and snapped his picture. “There. Picture taken. Now what?”
She had never sounded like that before in her life. Flirty. Suggestive.
Slutty, a voice whispered inside of her that could as easily have been Ethan as her mother.
Another thing Maya had never been was a slut. Staring into the bright blue gaze of the gorgeously inappropriate man in front of her who didn’t know that or anything else about her, she thought that was a crying shame.
Not that she planned to cry. About anything.
“That depends,” the man said, and his voice was almost too much to handle. He sounded like the American South, mixed through with what she could only call bad boy, and his amused drawl made her shiver in all kinds of impossible places. “What do you want?”
And Maya had never done an impetuous thing in her life. It was high time she started, she thought. Right here and now, with the kind of reckless behavior she would have shuddered at a few days ago.
Because the man before her, looking at her with all those muscles and a kind of too-hot awareness in his blue eyes, might not be a corporate lawyer. But she had absolutely no doubt that he had reckless down pat.
And Maya wanted to taste it.
End of excerpt
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