Touch of Fate
by AC Arthur
Book 5 in the Donovans Series
Writing romance novels has fulfilled Deena Lakefield’s deepest fantasies. But the rising author and art-gallery heiress still hasn’t found the hero in her own life. Until she travels to historic Hilton Head Island, where hunky Vegas real estate tycoon Maxwell Donovan seduces her with candlelight dinners and midnight swims. Deena has finally found love—only to have her dream man vanish once their idyll ends.
Max can’t believe he let Deena get away…can’t believe she’s actually here in Vegas. All he wants is to hold her again, to let his kisses show how much he adores her. Will the woman of his dreams flee once she knows his secret? Or is theirs a love story for the books?
Touch of Fate
Book 5 in the Donovans Series
Touch of Fate
June—Hilton Head, South Carolina
Never have children.
Weeping. So much weeping, it echoed in his mind like a broken record. He tried to focus on sleep, resting his mind and his body that had been through so much, but it was useless. Hospitals were meant for the sick, to give them time to rest and recover. But how was one supposed to do that when there were constant interruptions, like nurses coming to poke a needle in your arm or stick a thermometer in your mouth? And doctors who came bearing one bad diagnosis after another; and family members who rallied around like the support system they were meant to be, talking and soothing, praying and smiling through tears.
He hadn’t rested, not since the first punch had been thrown and he’d ended up on the floor in a corner, bleeding, choking, dying. But he hadn’t died, he’d lived and was now dealing with the repercussions that some would consider his fate.
A fate that had destroyed the part of his future that had meant the most to him.
With sweat pouring from his face, his heart thumping wildly in his chest, Maxwell Donovan shot straight up in his bed. Sheets twisted around his slim waist, tangling between his legs, enough to cover his nudity and restrain the wild kicking that often accompanied his nightmares.
He was wide awake now. The dream allowed for nothing else. His first inclination was to work so he’d retrieved his laptop from its case on the small desk in the corner of the room. Dragging his hands down his face he took deep breaths while waiting for the computer to boot up.
They were back. The dreams. No, the nightmares.
For months, almost a year, they’d disappeared. He’d been sleeping just fine, living even better.
Donovan Investments, Inc., the real estate investment business he’d gone into with his partner and cousin, Adam Donovan, seven years ago was thriving. In the past year they’d made over ten purchases and resales, almost tripling their profit from the year before. Sure, the country was in a recession and new home mortgages were on the downslide—even with President Obama’s new home buyers tax credit—the fact still remained that people generally paid for what they wanted and begged for what they needed. Meaning, people who wanted larger homes or better-looking business offices were still in the buying market. Now, five to ten years from now would they be able to afford the decision they’d made in the past year? Max didn’t have the answer to that, nor did he spend too many nights trying to figure it out. He wasn’t in the lending business.
Through their company he and Adam searched for viable properties, most often through estates and word of mouth. They refurbished the properties then sold them for a larger profit. What set them apart from the proverbial house flippers seen on television reality shows was that they didn’t work in residential real estate. Office buildings, retail spaces and, now resorts were where they concentrated their efforts.
And those efforts were paying off, he and Adam, along with their seventy-five-person staff, were making a more than comfortable living at their jobs. Business was good, so for Max that meant life was good.
Then everything in the Donovan family began to go haywire.
His generation of Donovan men, who were self-proclaimed “not the marrying type” for various reasons, were now getting hitched and starting families. His three cousins, Lincoln, Trent and Adam, had all taken the plunge. Linc and his wife, Jade, now had twin girls, while Trent and his wife of six months, Tia, had already welcomed a little boy into their family. Adam and his wife, Camille, were embarking on two exciting events—Camille’s fashion design company had expanded globally and they were now in Rome where her first international show was about to take place. And, as if that weren’t enough, Camille was seven months pregnant with their first child. Hence the reason Max was here in Hilton Head, South Carolina, looking over the faltering Sandy Pines Resort.
Pulling up his email he saw the one from his mother and had to smile.
Alma Donovan was another big part of the reason he was here and not Adam. It was her connection to this particular land in Hilton head that first alerted Max and Adam to the prospect. The land northeast of US 278, or William Hilton Parkway, nestled along Broad Creek, between the Wexford and Long Cover Plantations, had belonged to Alma’s great-great-grandfather, Eustis Johnson. It was said that the money Eustis earned as a result of being one of the first black soldiers in the Union troop during the Civil War had allowed him to buy the land on Hilton Head Island, the island that once consisted almost entirely of African-Americans with deep historic roots. Hilton Head began its transformation into an almost all-white, upscale golf, tennis and shopping mecca in the late 1950’s. Therefore, the land had gone from owner to owner, mostly staying within the Johnson family. It was with the passing of Alma’s third cousin that it had finally fallen into Alma’s name. And she wanted her son to make something of their legacy, something she and the rest of the Johnsons could be proud of.
So far, Max wasn’t impressed with what was being called the Sandy Pines Resort. He’d only been here two days but his first impression was that the previous owner had tried to compete with the existing gated communities around Hilton head and failed dismally. Probably because of money.
Nina, Max’s assistant at his office back in Las Vegas, had done some research prior to his departure and emailed him all the information on the island he needed. Bypassing his mother’s email, he pulled up Nina’s and opened some of the files she’d sent. Hilton Head’s transformation was due partly to money—that wasn’t surprising. Developers with high ideas and deep pockets had invaded the all-but-forgotten island, getting a return on their investment that probably surpassed their wildest dreams.
The question for Max was did Donovan Investments repeat what had been working for so long on this prosperous island? Or should they do what they always did—break all the rules to come out on top?
That put him back to the meeting he had just before leaving Vegas. The one that Alma called with him and Adam.
“I want you boys to do this right,” she’d said the moment they both sat down at the conference table in their office.
She’d worn a business suit, which was usually what his mother wore; whether it be pants or a skirt, she was always ready for business. You’d never guess she’d been a housewife most of her fifty-five years. She had earned a BA in Business a year before marrying Everette Donovan. But since Everette was a third partner, along with two of his brothers, in this generation of the Donovan oil legacy, there had been no need for Alma to take her degree further. Or at least that’s what Everette first thought. After settling into marriage and having two sons, Max and Benjamin, separated by two years, Alma began to work a little here and there at home. Her work consisted mainly of helping Everette with his business dealings. After Max and Ben finished college and moved out of their family home in Nevada she’d teamed up with her sister-in-law, Beverly Donovan, making sure the Donovan name still had clout in the area of philanthropy. Between the two of them they had several charities going, along with their own foundation for women. And now, so it seemed, another pet project for Alma.
“You’re good at what you do, there’s no doubt about that or I wouldn’t trust this to you. But I want you to know exactly what I envision before you go any further.”
Adam tossed Max a questioning look that Max knew better than to return. When his mother was about business there was no playing involved. Adam, for whatever reason, acted like he’d forgotten that.
“So tell us about this project, Mom,” he’d said in his most professional voice, pulling out his legal pad and pen, prepared to take notes. That’s what he would have done at any other meeting, only this wasn’t any other meeting. Very rarely did he and Adam have clients come to them with a property they wanted to refurbish and keep. So he was all ears to his mother’s plan. At least for the moment.
“You’ve been to the island before, Max. Your father and I took you and Ben a couple of times when you were younger. That’s when Aunt Jocenda had the place. Then her crazy twin sister got it after Jocenda died in that plane crash. Jessa was always a bit touched but her parents never wanted to admit it.”
“So there was a crazy woman running this…what? A bed-and-breakfast on Hilton Head Island?” Adam questioned. “That sounds like a plot point in a horror novel.” He chuckled.
“You’re still the most playful of Beverly’s boys,” Alma said with a half grin. “I thought when Camille married you, you’d settle it down a little. I guess she hasn’t gotten that far yet.”
Adam was already shaking his head. “Camille loves to laugh. I like to oblige her when I can. But seriously, Aunt Alma, what is it you think we can do with this place? And why us? If you already own the property you could just hire contractors to refurbish the place for you. Then you could hire staff to run it, make and income off it for yourself. You don’t really need to get us involved.” He shrugged.
“Oh, but I do,” she said, pulling out a folder full of old photos. “This is what the house looked like when I was a little girl.”
Adam took a few pictures then slid some to Max. He looked down at what struck him as a house right out of history. Big, palatial, like an old Southern plantation. Wraparound porch, miles of grass, big magnolia trees lining the walkway. He was instantly taken back to a time and place before he was born, when African Americans didn’t have the right to read, much less own a house of this magnitude.
“And you say your great-great-grandfather, Eustis, owned this house and this land. Was this documented?” he asked.
“Of course it was documented, Maxwell. Don’t act like we’re thieves or liars. Because we’re not. I come from much more dignified stock than that.”
Justly scorned, Max nodded. “Okay, so the land is legally yours now. Does the house still look like this?”
“Somewhat, but not really. Jessa had the idea that she could change the house into a resort like the other big ones down in Hilton Head now, but she failed. Just like she failed in everything else she did.”
“Because she didn’t have enough money,” Adam guessed.
“That and because she didn’t have a lick of sense. You can’t run a resort if half the occupants are no-good drunks out to use you for the little bit you have. Jess was always being used. I suspect because everybody could see she didn’t have it all going on upstairs,” Alma said, tapping a finger against her temple. “Anyway, that’s all done. The good Lord saw fit to carry Jessa on home with the rest of her family. Now, it’s in my hands and I ‘m so thankful that I’ve been blessed enough in my lifetime to be able to do it right.”
“You want to keep it as a resort?” Max asked, thinking he could see where his mother was going with this.
“That’s right.” Alma nodded. “But I want it to look like this again,” she said, pointing to the pictures in front of them.
“There’s acres and acres of land here, Aunt Alma. Do you want to build on some additions? Increase the number of guests that can be accommodated?”
“No, I want it to remain exactly the same size. I think it’s about ten rooms as it stands now, upstairs and down, not including living quarters for the staff.”
“The staff doesn’t have to live there. They can live elsewhere on the island, increasing the rooms to be rented out,” Max said but Alma was already shaking her head.
“No, I want it like it was when I used to go as a little girl. There was always somebody in that big house. People who took care of it all the time, faces I’d seen so much I thought they were related as well. They lived there so it made it all the more important to take good care of the space. And it was a home away from home. Not a hotel. Everybody felt comfortable there. We had breakfasts together in the big dining room, lunch usually out on the porch. Dinner back in the dining room. It was all timed and respected. The land was always well tended. Nice green grass, bright white magnolias and lots and lots of flowers in the gardens around back. The children had space to play while the grown-ups tended to their business. It was like a haven away from the rest of the world. That’s what I want to give vacationers. Not golf and yachting or expensive shops and boutiques. I want to give them some old Southern comfort.”
Max sighed as he remembered the conversation. Looking around the room at the peeling paint and ragged wood planked floors he rubbed his neck. Bringing his mother’s dream into this reality was going to be tough. But they could do it. She believed in him and Adam—in the business they had built. So much so she’d given them free reign and a limitless budget to get the project done.
So Max was determined to do just that. No matter how much his nightmares haunted him.
She’d messed up again.
That’s what her family would say.
Deena Lasharon Lakefield propped her feet onto the balcony railing and sat back in her chair. The warm South Carolina air massaged her skin as she closed her eyes, ticking off the events of the past week.
Reviews for her first romance novel, Until Tomorrow, were flooding in and were all good. She was a success, or at least her story was with the readers. Financially, her editor had advised she’d have to wait a couple months to see how sales went. But Deena was optimistic, always.
She deserved a vacation. Her older sister, Monica, had dutifully made the observation that Deena’s entire life was a vacation. Even more according to duty, Deena ignored her.
In Monica’s eyes, Deena was the immature sister, the careless and carefree one. So there was no surprise that every opportunity she had Monica was reprimanding her for something. But even if Deena tried to be more like her older sister—which she definitely did not because the world didn’t need another cold-hearted workaholic woman mad at the entire male species—it just wouldn’t work. Deena wasn’t cut out to be a businesswoman. Her talent was to create.
As for her other sister, Karena, Deena admired her strength and her latest decision to cut down on some of her work hours and enjoy life. That could be due to the very handsome Sam Desdune, who’d worn Karena and her misguided ideas about relationships down.
In the supermarket she’d seen a brochure tacked onto the community board. She’d taken it down because she loved the scene of an old Southern plantation boasting sandy beaches, cool water and relaxation from the moment she stepped onto the grounds. It had taken her another hour to get home and book her room. The next day she was packed and heading to the airport.
Now she was here, sitting on the porch and for all intents and purposes enjoying the Southern air and relaxing.
It was only when she opened her eyes to see the poor conditions of her room and the sad state of the grounds at Sandy Pines Resort that she began to rethink her decision in coming here.
It wasn’t so rundown that she couldn’t stay. Truth be told, the place had potential. It just didn’t look well maintained. But her sheets were clean, the food was good and there was a pool that she could use twenty-four hours a day. There weren’t many guests so she had plenty of peace and quiet to work on her next book. All in all, Deena would say it was working out well. Despite the discrepancies in the brochure and what Sandy Pines actually was.
To take her mind off the resort and her sisters, Deena decided to run herself a bath. Afterward, she lay in the king-size bed staring up at the ceiling, sleep successfully evading her. After about an hour of this she’d sighed and climbed out of the bed. Either she could work until she fell asleep or she could go for a swim. She decided to do both, in a roundabout way.
Plotting the great romantic love affair was a hell of a lot easier than experiencing one of her own, she thought as she padded down the wrought iron stairs on the back side of the big house. That’s why she wrote fantastic love stories and took her own love life for what it was—good for the moment. Did she want the same happily ever after she wrote about? Of course she did, but she wasn’t about to spend every waking moment searching for it.
Dropping her towel and room key onto one of the lounge chairs she stepped out of her shoes. It was a quiet night, the sky above was dark, yet calm and welcoming. The air was balmy with a slight breeze as she shrugged out of her robe and walked toward the water. Monica would put a toe in to test the temperature. Karena would probably sit on the side with her feet fully submerged first until she felt comfortable. Deena just jumped in.
That’s how she did most things in her life. Made a decision and went for it. Some would call that impulsive. Her father called it irresponsible. Deena figured there was no other way to be and so far it was working just fine.
The water had a slight chill to it, but it didn’t bother her as she swam from one end to the other. It was refreshing, cutting through the water as sleek as a fish, her mother would say. Each stroke had her mind emptying of where she was, or any of the other issues that plagued her life. All she could think about now was Joanna, the heroine in her new book.
Joanna was looking for love. Not desperately looking, but hoping it would come sooner rather than later. She was twenty-eight, the same age as Deena, and had never really been in love. Of course, Joanna had boyfriends and fell in lust a couple of times but she was certain that love had never resided in her heart for a man.
They say new authors write what they know. This was not the case for Deena. She could write about falling in love, write about lasting and satisfying relationships, but had yet to find one of her own. There was irony in that somewhere, only she didn’t see it right now.
Instead she envisioned the perfect man for Joanna.
Tall, surpassing six feet. Good looking was a given, drop-dead gorgeous an added bonus. More importantly, he had to be compassionate and love life as much as Joanna did. He had to appreciate and support her or their life together would never work. Success and money didn’t matter that much to Deena, much to her father’s consternation. But this was a romance novel so he’d have a steady job and be a basically good guy.
With each stroke Deena thought more and more about creating Joanna’s hero, so much so that she had to pause…was she thinking about the perfect man for Joanna or the perfect man for herself?
Max’s mind was on a snack. As he was on the steps that creaked when you walked down, inhaling the stuffy humid air walking through the house, in his head he ticked off an endless list of changes as he moved into the large kitchen and flicked on the light.
He didn’t expect what he saw.
A butterfly, full-colored wings and lavish detail, drawn on skin the exact color of a milk chocolate bar.
On impulse his body tightened with arousal.
But when she turned around, smiled and said, “Hello,” all the air deflated from his lungs, his mouth momentarily going dry.
“Hello,” he finally managed when he realized he was standing like a mute.
“I was just getting a glass of water,” she said then turned back to the cupboard where she was reaching for a glass.
They were on the highest shelf and he thought, thank you, Lord, as the hip-riding shorts she wore over her bathing suit bottom didn’t reach upward with the rest of her body. The butterfly he’d first noticed, which was strategically located just above her buttocks, was again noticeable.
He could hear his cousin Trent saying now, “There’s nothing hotter than a tramp stamp.” That’s what tattoos in this particular location on a female were called. And right about now, no matter how rare an occasion it was that he actually agreed with Trent, Max felt his cousin’s words were the honest truth.
Not only was this tattoo hot, but the tight little body it was attached to was pretty damn spectacular as well. She wasn’t tall, maybe five feet four inches. But she was shaped like a woman definitely familiar with a guy. He noted her toned legs and well-defined arms. Her bottom was tight and round and his mouth was watering.
Clearing his throat, Max reminded himself that he was thirty-five years old, not sixteen.
“It’s late,” he said finally.
She was turning on the faucet, sticking the glass she’d retrieved from the cabinet beneath it. Turning back to face him, she folded one arm over flat abs left bare by the bikini top she wore. Lifting the glass to her mouth she gave him a quizzical look. “I know. Couldn’t sleep. Since you’re standing down here with me at this late hour I have to conclude that you can’t either.”
“True,” he responded with a nod. “How long have you been here? At the resort I mean, not in the kitchen?”
She smiled and Max thought maybe the sun was coming out early.
“Just a couple of days. I’m Deena Lakefield,” she said offering her free hand to him.
Closing the distance between them, he took her extended hand. Petite would seem like the right word for her. Still, he had an idea there was much more to her than her slight size.
“Max Donovan. I’ve been here a couple of days, too. Wonder why we haven’t met before now.”
She shrugged. “I’ve been working a lot from my room.”
“What type of work do you do?”
She paused, like she was considering her answer, then with a tilt of her head said, “I’m a writer.”
“Really?” He would have placed her in media or something where she could talk and smile. It seemed she liked to do both. He liked to see and hear her do both. “What do you write?”
Her brown eyes brightened, her grin going from cordially nice to sensually soft. “Romance,” she said, her voice lowering slightly. “Know anything about that subject, Max Donovan?”