Boss With Benefits

By: Talia Hunter



“You’ll have to go to Perth,” he said. “But I’ll be back in Sydney as soon as I sell the resort.”

“The company takeover is three weeks away. We’ll need to have everything worked out by then, or the holding costs will mount quickly.”

Three weeks wasn’t long to sell the resort and do a handover to the new owner, but it would have to be enough. The profit when he sold the company’s assets would more than double his net worth. Good timing, when he thought about getting Tiny settled in a new place, with the best care money could buy.

“I’ll be back to handle the takeover,” Dalton said. He’d just have to sell the resort and get Tiny back to Sydney within the next couple of weeks.

When he hung up, he put in a call to the real estate broker he’d listed the resort with.

“Any progress?” he asked, pulling the wooden carving he’d started working on out of his drawer.

Working wood was a skill he’d taught himself as a boy, the one thing he’d kept from his childhood in Lantana. From boarding school to the boardroom, carving had always focused his mind.

Now he was working on a cane for Tiny. Its handle was smooth and easy for her to grip, and Lantana flowers curled up the cane’s stem, with small birds — silvereyes — perched among them. Though Tiny wouldn’t be able to live in Lantana anymore, she’d be able to carry a small piece of it with her. Hopefully it would be enough.

“Actually, I was going to call you today,” said the realtor. “As I mentioned before, your asking price is low. There’s been some interest, but I wanted to check the financial statements are right. They show the place has been making a loss?”

“The numbers are right. It has.” It felt strange to finally have that fact in the open, but it wasn’t as though Tiny could hear him. She’d be horrified if she knew, which was why he’d always kept it from her. And it had been easy enough. Their parents had left them equal partners in the resort, so he’d simply made regular payments to top up the bank account, and had the accountant explain them to her as tax refunds and credit readjustments. Tiny had already suffered enough, and if he could make her life easier and give her the life she loved, why not? There’d been no reason for her to know the resort wasn’t paying its way.

“Oh.” The realtor was silent a moment, then cleared her throat. “Okay. Well, that explains your asking price. And even making a loss, I think the buyer I’ve got lined up will still be interested.”

“Good. I need it sold right away, and I want the new owner to take possession within two to three weeks.”

“Three weeks?” she repeated faintly. “I’m not sure that’s possible.”

“The asking price is low for a reason.”

“Okay. I’ll put pressure on the buyer I’ve been talking to. If he’s serious, he’ll want to visit to take a look at the place. Have you got a room available for him to stay?”

If Mere had done as he’d asked and cancelled as many bookings as possible, they should have plenty of rooms available. “I’ll find space for him,” he promised.

After their call, Dalton leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment. Through his open window, he could smell the small white Lantana flowers that grew wild all over the island. Outside in the trees, birds were singing. And faint but unmistakable, he could hear the constant sound of the waves.

His chest ached with the familiarity of it all. He’d loved this island once, before everything had gone wrong. Tiny still loved it, and he hated that he had to take her away from it. “Hard choices,” he murmured. He was no stranger to them. Nobody knew better than he did how good things could turn bad. Like the island had for him. And now it had finally turned bad for Tiny too, because staying here could kill her.

He got up and shut the window, and although he had a ton of work to do, he picked up his chisel and worked on his carving, losing himself in the satisfaction of working a shape into the wood. The shavings fell onto his desk and his floor, and that made him feel good, too. The carving process was both creation and destruction. But in his current mood, the destruction part was a whole lot more satisfying.





5





Rosa’s new living quarters on Lantana Island had one small bedroom, an attached mini-kitchen and bathroom, and a sitting area that was only just big enough for a double-seater couch. The space was even smaller than her tiny apartment at home, but with its gauzy curtains and brightly patterned bedspread, it seemed much prettier. It was set well back from the guest bures and the beach, and there were two other units on either side — one for Mere, and one for the resort’s chef, Celina. A vase filled with fresh flowers had been left on the wooden dresser, and the room was fragrant with their scent.

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