A mysterious guest is staying at Justine Hoffman's Friday Harbor bed and breakfast . . . the elusive Jason Black, a successful videogame developer who scrupulously avoids the public spotlight. Justine meets Jason for the first time when he requests a couple of vodka shots to be brought to his room . . .
The door opened. Justine had a brief, dizzying impression of midnight eyes and hard features, and a sexy disorder of short black hair.
He gestured for Justine to enter the room, pausing just long enough to tell her, "Don't leave yet." He looked at her directly.
The glance lasted only a half-second, but it was nearly enough to knock Justine backward. His fathomless eyes--shrewd and opaque as blackstrap molasses--could have belonged to Lucifer himself.
Justine responded with a dazed nod and managed to set the tray on the table without spilling it. She was so unsettled that it took her a minute to realize he was speaking in Japanese. His voice was mesmerizing, a quiet baritone wrapped in shadow.
At a loss for what to do, she went to one of the windows and looked outside. The vestigial light was melon-colored at the horizon, darkening to a black plum meridian overhead. The fissure of a crescent moon gleamed white and clear like a claw mark in the sky.
A night made for magic.
Her attention returned to Jason Black, who paced slowly as he talked. He was a big man, elegantly lean, the easy athleticism of his movements hinting at deep tracts of muscle beneath the crisp white button-down shirt and khakis. Leaning over the table, he scrawled a few words on a notepad. A stainless steel Swiss Army watch gleamed on his wrist.
His face could have been honed from amber, the cheekbones steeply angled. Weathering at the outward corners of his eyes betrayed a pattern of sleepless nights and restless days. Although his mouth was set in ruthless lines, his lips looked soft, as if erotic tenderness had been kneaded into the surface.
"Forgive me," he said, shutting off the phone as he approached Justine. "Tokyo is sixteen hours ahead of us. I had to get in one last call."
His manner was relaxed, but Justine had to fight the instinct to step back from him. Even though she knew he posed no threat to her, she had the sense of him as a dangerous creature, a tiger behind a thin glass wall.
"Of course," she said. "Your Stoli is right over there."
"Thank you." His gaze didn't move from hers. He extended a hand. "Jason."
"Justine." Her fingers were swallowed in a deep grip that sent a jolt of warmth to her elbow. "I hope your room is satisfactory."
"Yes. However . . ." Releasing her hand, he said, "I'm curious about something." He nodded toward the glazed earthenware flowerpot on the table. It contained a double-stemmed moth orchid, each stem bearing an inflorescence of snowy-white blooms. "I asked for an arrangement of white flowers. But this--"
"You don't like it? I'm sorry. First thing in the morning I'll get you another--"
"It would be no trouble--"
"Justine." He lifted a hand in the peremptory gesture of a man who wasn't used to being interrupted. She fell instantly silent. "I like the orchid," he said. "I just want to know why you chose it."
"Oh. Well, it's nicer to have a living, breathing plant in the room instead of a cut bouquet. And I thought an orchid would go with the Klimt artwork."
"It does. Clean, elegant . . ." A barely perceptible pause, " . . . suggestive."
Justine smiled wryly. The orchid bloom, with plush petals resembling lips and furled folds and delicate apertures, was nothing short of flower porn. "If there's nothing else," she said, "I'll be going now."
"Do you have to be somewhere?"
She glanced at him in bemusement. "Not really."
Justine blinked and knit her fingers together. "I was told you're not much on small talk."
"It's not small talk if it's someone I want to talk to."
She gave him a carefully neutral smile. "But you must be tired."
"I'm always tired." Jason gripped the back of the chair, lifted it easily with one hand, and placed it near the bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress, and gestured to the chair. "Have a seat."
Another command. Justine was half-amused, half-annoyed, thinking that he was entirely too used to telling people what to do. Why did he want to talk to her? Was he hoping to find out something about Zoë or Alex, something he could use during the negotiations for the Dream Lake development?
"Only for a few minutes," she said, lowering to the chair. "It's been a long day." Pressing her knees together and folding her hands in her lap, she looked at him expectantly.
Jason Black was so darkly beautiful, so striking in his cool self-assurance that he seemed more like a fantasy figure than an actual human being. He appeared to be on the early side of his thirties, wearing an air of disenchantment like a bulletproof vest. "Too handsome for his own good," was how his assistant Priscilla had put it . . . but it would have been more accurate to say he was too handsome for anyone's good.
"Why are you staying here?" she asked bluntly. "You could have chartered a luxury yacht and moored it in the harbor. Or gotten a hotel penthouse in Seattle and flown in for the day."
"I'm not the luxury yacht type. And the inn looked like the right place for a vacation while we negotiate terms for the Dream Lake project."
Justine smiled at that. "You're not on vacation."
One dark brow lifted slightly. "I'm not?"
"No, a vacation is when you spend entire days doing nothing productive. You take pictures of scenery, buy stuff you don't need, eat and drink too much, sleep late."
"That sounds . . ." He paused in search of the right word. ". . . grotesque."
"You don't like to relax," she said rather than asked.
"I don't see the point."
"Maybe the point is that every now and then you should take a break to look back and enjoy what you've accomplished."
"I haven't accomplished enough to be able to enjoy it."
"You're the head of a big company and you're a gazillionaire. Most people wouldn't complain about that."
"What I meant," he said evenly, "is that I can't take credit for the company's success. I have a good team. And we've had some luck." He took one of the vodka shots and nudged the silver tray toward her. "Here."
Justine blinked. "You're asking me to have a drink with you?"
She gave a disconcerted laugh.
His eyes narrowed. "Why is that funny?"
"Usually when you invite a person to do something, you don't give orders. 'Sit there, do this, have that,' . . ."
"How do you want me to say it?"
"You could try something like, 'Would you like to have the other shot of vodka?"
"But if I asked you that way, you might turn me down."
"Do you ever get turned down?" she asked skeptically.
"It's been known to happen."
"I find that hard to believe. Anyway, I'm not good at following orders. I need to be asked."
Jason's gaze was steady and intent on hers. After a moment he asked, "Would you stay and have a drink with me?"
Crystal Cove: A Friday Harbor Novel