Stranded with the Billionaire
He’s rich, gorgeous, and charming as cake but she can’t stand him. Stranded on an island is going to be torture… or is it?
Liz Meyer works on a yacht whose owner is never there – which is why she took the position. The man’s public relations persona is womanizing and… charming. She’s been around his charm and his magnetism is hypnotic and the sparks between them could start a fire! Liz doesn’t want charming or fire. She wants peace after the constant turmoil with her ex.
The last place the billionaire would be is the first place Liz wants to spend her time.
Lincoln Holstein is nothing like the media makes him out to be. He prefers the quiet of his penthouse over the mad rush of a party. When he’s forced to retire to his yacht for some well-deserved time away and to escape threats from a stalking competitor, he’s frustrated by the sassy steward he hadn’t realized was on his payroll. She does nothing but argue with him, as if she’s the boss with the billions. He’s never been more aware of a woman and he’s not sure he likes the control she continues to take.
But none of that matters when the yacht suddenly starts to sink. With only two lifeboats available, Lincoln and Liz both decide not to take a spot in favor of saving others. They aren’t far from a deserted island, so they swim for it.
Can two enemies rely on each other to survive? What if Liz and Lincoln find out losing their hearts is the best way to save themselves?
Liz couldn’t fix anything for her mom from five thousand miles away. She leaned her head forward on the cocobolo wood cabinet in the galley of the 200-foot yacht. Closing her eyes, she blocked out the lavish surroundings she’d been hired to help upkeep and just focused on the desperate sound of her mother’s voice.
“Mom, I’m sorry. I’m sending you as much as I can, everything in fact. How much more do we owe?” Liz wasn’t sure if they’d ever get out from under her father’s debt. He’d died not too long ago, leaving the women in his life with more than just grief to handle.
“Most of it is interest or late fees. I can’t even figure out what the actual total is.” Fatigue creaked the end of her mother’s words. “Did you ever hear back from your lawyer?” Her hope was obvious and Liz didn’t want to dash it.
She nodded, even though her mom couldn’t see her. Folding her arm across her waist and hooking a finger into the crook of her bent elbow of the arm holding the phone, she took a deep breath. “I did. It’s not looking good.” That was an understatement of the century.
Her husband of two years had suddenly disappeared. He’d filed for divorce and taken all of the money in their accounts and borrowed against their house in less than twenty-four hours. Liz was still reeling.
The lawyer continued to deny any way to go after him since he’d done it while married and had her signature – or rather he’d frauded her signature on the paperwork. His new girlfriend just happened to be a notary public.
Even Liz’s lawyer wasn’t the best. Liz couldn’t afford better.
“Okay, that’s okay. We can figure this out.” But there was nothing hopeful in her mom’s voice.
“How long do we have?” The house was in the initial stages of foreclosure, but things moved fast in Liz’s small hometown of Lewiston, Idaho. Banks didn’t sit on homes they could sell and the housing market in Lewiston was on fire. My childhood home would be sold in a couple days, if it didn’t go at auction.
Liz turned, leaning her shoulder blades against the sturdy cabinetry. She wasn’t supposed to be stressing about her mom’s living arrangements. She was supposed to be married, happy, children on the way, and whatever else picket-fence-American dream she could imagine.
“A week.” Her mom whimpered. Liz’s strong, opinionated mom was so low in despair, she whimpered.
And Liz didn’t blame her. From where they sat, things looked bleak. Even with the awesome job Liz had been able to procure, making five-thousand dollars a month, it wasn’t going to be enough.
A week. Liz would have to ask the purser of the yacht, Mr. Stimbly, for an advance or something. Desperate times called for desperate everything else and Liz was definitely bordering on desperate.
She couldn’t let her mom know that. She straightened from her slouch against the cabinet and lifted her chin. “That’s okay. I’ll figure something out. We’ll figure this out, okay? We always do.” To be honest, they’d never had that kind of stress put on them before. Dad had always taken care of the bills.
The problem with letting someone else run things was rearing its ugly head as they dealt with the consequences. Judging by the debts her father had left behind, he hadn’t been good at handling money.
“I need to get going, Mom. My break is almost over.” Although they weren’t sticklers on the Paradise Palace about sticking to time. Doing what you were paid to do was the majority of her expectations. They trusted you were doing just that or they’d push you out at the next port and hire someone else.
Liz wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize her job.
“Of course. Call me later. I’ll be here.” Her mom infused her words with false bravado and Liz was grateful for it. They both knew a façade when they saw one, but there was nothing crying and moaning was going to do for them. They had to look for a solution, multiple ones, if that’s what was needed.
Liz hung up the phone, biting her cheek as she turned to check through the galley once more before heading to the deck. She prided herself on keeping a tight ship. She was into her second month of employment and the purser and the other staff had complimented her on her efforts.
Not only did she have a good work ethic, but she could spot a cherry of a job without looking hard.
There were so many features about her current employment that she found ideal. One had to be the fact that her ex-husband wasn’t able to find her to bother her. He wouldn’t pass her on the street or see her at the store. She didn’t have to worry about having memories spring up in her home that she’d shared with him – no, that had been foreclosed when he defaulted on the loan he’d taken out.
Another benefit of working on the Paradise Palace was that the owner, Lincoln Holstein, was never there. His reputation as a workaholic was an honestly earned one and he kept the yacht to keep up appearances. The last time the crew even remembered him being on-board had been seven or eight months before. Way before Liz’s time on the ship.
Not that she minded. The man was known for his charm. Her heart was just bruised enough she might not survive a run-in with someone new. He oozed his prince-like personality on the magazine pages, online, and on the news. Liz didn’t want to be around more charm. He was probably spoiled and careless with other people like her ex had turned out to be.
She didn’t need more of that. What she needed was someone who would be gentle with her heart. Someone who wouldn’t let her down on multiple levels. She could handle being taken care of for once.
But no. Not her boss. He wasn’t an option and he certainly wasn’t available to someone of her station. She was the steward of his yacht. She wasn’t in a Cinderella story. There would be minimal contact with him and the closest thing she’d have to a chance at romance was the sixty-three-year-old galley cook who had trained under some of the best chefs in the world.
No. She was glad she was where she was at. She just wished there was some way she could help her mom more. Lewiston, Idaho was a long way from her current reality.
She climbed the steps four flights to the main deck, ignoring the bright blue expanse of ocean as far as the eye could see. They cruised around the Pacific Ocean within hours of the Hawaiian Islands in case Lincoln suddenly wanted to use the yacht.
The constant perfection in both temperature and climate had taken on a stagnant feeling. There was no change, day in and day out. The presence of a bird on deck was usually cause for exclamation and wonder.
Liz adjusted a pulled a damp cloth from her waist apron – part of her practical uniform – and wiped an errant, possibly imagined, speck of dust from the shining chrome railing.
The sound was far-off, but broke the perfect stillness that was so normal out there on the deck. Liz turned, shading her eyes as she searched the horizon.
A black dot grew bigger and bigger from the east, the sound growing louder as it got closer. The helicopter’s shape came into focus as it headed toward the helicopter landing pad on the bow of the ship.
“Liz! He’s coming. Is everything ready? We can’t mess this up.” Porter, the deckhand rushed past Liz, staring at the approaching aircraft and waving toward the captain who stood at the end of the aisle between the collection of lounging furniture. “Did you know he was coming? We don’t have crab or caviar on-board.”
“I don’t even know if this is him for sure.” The captain pointed toward the approaching helicopter.
“Barry! He’s bringing a party with him. They’ll be here in a few hours. You better call the island and make some orders. Get them here ASAP.” The porter ran across the short distance from one side of the deck to the other, double checking things Liz was in charge of. They all worked together to make sure things were just so.
“Yes, sir.” Of course, it was ready. She had nothing else to do to earn her money and idleness didn’t lend itself to clearing her mind of worry. A party would definitely make things interesting for a little bit.
Chest tight, Liz swallowed, tucking her cloth back into the side pocket. She wasn’t sure why he was there, but she suddenly wanted to yell at the purser for telling her the owner was never on the ship. His absence was a huge reason she’d accepted the job. That and the sign-on bonus she’d been promised after eight weeks of employment.
She was almost there, but it wouldn’t be soon enough to save her mom’s house, unless she could convince Mr. Stimbly that the bonus a couple days early wouldn’t be unreasonable.
The breeze picked up, stirred about by the chopping movement of the blades as the small helicopter settled onto the pad.
Liz wasn’t expected to be present when he landed, but that didn’t keep her from edging around the side to peek around the side. She’d be lying to herself, if she said she didn’t wonder about the man the staff spoke about in wonder.
Was he everything the media claimed or was he more along the lines of a benefactor like the crew claimed?
Not that it mattered. Liz didn’t need the stress of wishing for something that wouldn’t be. Come on, girl. Get your head back in the game.
She wasn’t there to wish for things that couldn’t be. She didn’t want love. She didn’t want anything but money to pay off her mom’s debts. Even if she was lonely. She couldn’t help the sadness left behind by being abandoned by her husband. Maybe she wasn’t meant for anything else, but longing.
Lincoln rubbed his eyes before disembarking the helicopter. The warm, humid air struck him first, working its way through his suit and white shirt. The weather was drastically different from the chilly weather in Seattle. A change he definitely wouldn’t complain about.
The wind from the chopper whipped his tie over his shoulder and he squinted toward his waiting staff as the helicopter lifted off with orders to go to the main island.
He joined the captain and deckhand as they ducked under the protection of the cabin overhang. He had a lot of information to get before he could escape to his rooms. Maybe having a party wasn’t the best way to announce his presence in Hawaii. Maybe he should have stopped in at the resort in Getaway Bay and had dinner at the high exposure restaurants.
That would have been preferable to hosting all the people coming out and being as exhausted as he was. He wouldn’t be able to kick them off the boat when he wanted. Many times those parties lasted a lot longer than anyone planned. Days to weeks, even.
“Sir, you might want to get to your quarters and get ready. You don’t have a lot of time before your guests begin to arrive.” His captain smiled kindly at him, gesturing toward the side door.
Lincoln nodded. He left the cabin and turned to the side. A woman with red hair ducked out of sight. He squinted to catch sight of her again. He’d never seen her there before. Maybe he was losing it.
He could just be tired. It wouldn’t be the first time exhaustion took control. A nap might be exactly what he needed before he got to work. He had a lot to prepare for and a lot to clean up. Too bad he had no idea where to get started.
Lincoln rubbed a perspiring, cold can of pop against his neck. He leaned his arm against the wall beside the fridge and hung his head, moving the can around to the back along the collar of his shirt.
The bass beats from the music on the upper deck pulsed down through the floors, reaching Lincoln even in the kitchen. He sighed. He didn’t want to go back. He wasn’t interested. He just wanted to go to bed, but multiple women who had come out wouldn’t leave him alone and he had no doubt a few of them would try to follow him into his quarters.
He wasn’t interested.
“Do you need something, sir?” The woman’s voice announced her presence before Lincoln saw her. When she walked into view of the light from the fridge, Lincoln couldn’t help but feel a little gratitude at the realization that he hadn’t imagined her previously. A slight aroma of almonds and vanilla curled around him. She even smelled like a dream. He was tempted to pinch himself to make sure she was real.
He lowered the can to his side and straightened. “No, I… I just wanted something to drink.” He couldn’t admit to needing a break from the noise and the chaos above. Of course, there were drinks up there, but he couldn’t get a can of pop in silence.
Dressed in his required dark blue shorts and white polo short-sleeved uniform the woman stopped at the island in the center of the kitchen, her hands on her hips. She watched him, as if waiting for him to do something.
He glanced at the fridge door standing open and then at the can in his hand. Was it her pop or something? He blinked, unsure what would justify the expression on her face. Her green eyes glinted in the slight lighting from the fridge.
She stepped forward, shutting the fridge door and looking him up and down. “Do you need anything else before you return to your party, sir?” Even though she smiled, she reprimanded him with her eyes.
Lincoln wasn’t sure what she thought she was doing, but he didn’t appreciate the suggestion that he had to be anywhere at any specific time. “Actually, this is my yacht and I can be wherever I want, whenever I want. And you are?”
Rather than reacting like she’d been reprimanded by an employer, the woman arched an eyebrow and shoved a hand on her hip. “Really? It’s okay for you to abandon your guests when they’re up there toasting you? I don’t know where you’re from, but in my world, that’s just plain rude.”
Had she really just called him rude? He blinked in surprise, unsure what to say. It had been a long time since anyone had called him on his actions or lack of manners and he wasn’t sure if he deserved it or if he was mad that she’d been so presumptuous.
The woman froze, her eyes growing wide. She slowly reached up and covered her mouth with dainty hands and closed her eyes at the same time. After a minute, she cleared her throat and opened her eyes. Remorse darkened the mossy green of her eyes. She shook her head. “I’m so sorry. That was… It’s been a long day, made longer…” She didn’t explain further, but she didn’t need to. If she did, she’d only shove her foot in her mouth further.
Lincoln swallowed. He didn’t want to be mad at her. She’d apologized. That should be enough. It was enough. Then why did he want to make her squirm a bit? There was something about her attitude that he just wanted to rankle for fun. Maybe tormenting her would make him feel better about checking out her legs and the thick sheen of her red hair.
He would love to run his fingers through her tresses, but he had a feeling she would disapprove and make sure he knew it.
“You’re fine. Thanks. I need to be reminded about my upbringing once in a while.” He smirked at her and popped the tab on his can. He didn’t even want to drink it, but he needed something to do besides staring in her eyes and wondering if her skin was as soft as it looked.
Her worry softened. Lincoln liked the way lessening her worry made him feel. It was more satisfying than rankling her. That was a first.
She reached up and tucked a chunk of her hair behind her ear, glancing to the side. The light from the icemaker made it more intimate feeling, shrinking the essence of the galley from a large kitchen to the small area in the pool of light. The woman and Lincoln stood together and didn’t move.
Captive in her gaze, Lincoln didn’t move or talk for a long moment. Just when he was about to ask her name, he paused.
A loud grinding crunch shuddered through the ship. The woman reached out and grabbed the island, fear taking over the softening of her expression.
Complete silence replaced the ever-present sound of the engines running. Lincoln shifted his eyes around the room, as if the answers he sought would be evident right there in that one room.
“Are you okay?” Lincoln asked her that rather than ask her name. He had to figure out what happened before he could pursue any other questioning.
Faint screams and outcries reached him from the top deck. He turned, walking swiftly toward the stairs. He glanced behind him, surprised to find the red-head following close behind.
He wasn’t sure what she was up to, but for a moment, he could pretend she was on his side. That made it more appealing to have her following close behind and gave him more than a sliver of comfort.
To not have to worry that someone was going to stab him in the back at the first chance they got was worth a million dollars right about then.
Liz chided herself for her words as she followed Lincoln up the stairs and onto the deck of the ship. Who did she think she was, bossing the actual boss around? He’d seemed amused and yet put out at the same time. She didn’t blame him. She better reign in the brassy attitude or she’d never be able to keep her job.
Dang it all, he was even better looking in real life. That didn’t help things.
She hadn’t heard that noise the entire time she’d been on the yacht. It was the first time the engines had stopped in two months unless they’d pulled into port and never with that amount of noise. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to hold as many people as he’d invited.
They came out of the stairwell to find almost a hundred people dressed in their finest dressing gowns and bikinis – it was an interesting mix – huddled together as they stared at the water over the railing. They pointed and a few even exclaimed to other groups. “Do you see the water level?”
Lincoln glanced back at Liz, worry knitting his eyebrows together. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he had a vulnerability and might actually care about other people.
The boat pitched to the side in slow motion, the dip enough to throw everyone off, but not enough to dump anyone overboard. The captain rushed from the cabin to Lincoln’s side. He spoke in hushed tones, but Liz heard everything.
“We’re taking on water at a rapid pace.” The captain glanced at the group of people, then turned his eyes back to Lincoln. “I’d like to suggest the lifeboats, sir.”
Lincoln nodded tightly, reaching out and taking the captain’s arm in a sign of solidarity. “I agree. How many people onboard and how many will the lifeboats fit?”
The captain cleared his throat and blinked. “There are two-hundred and twenty-three souls onboard, sir. The lifeboats have a limit of one hundred each. We have three lifeboats.”
Plenty of room. Liz sighed in relief. They would need to evacuate the ship as quickly as possible. She had to think, did she need anything from her rooms? She hadn’t brought anything. She’d left her belongings boxed up in her mom’s basement after the divorce.
She was a nomad and didn’t have a place where she belonged anywhere.
The captain finally noticed Liz, and he drew her into the conversation. “I suggest we utilize Liz to get everyone in position. She’s new but she can do this job better than most.”
Lincoln studied her, like he’d never seen her before. “Okay, then Liz, let’s get this going.”
She nodded, turning toward the groups of people. Taking a deep breath, Liz noticed distractedly that the night sky could have been full of diamonds littered across a dark blue velvet setting. The moon hung low and bright, like it waited its turn all day to show its splendor and it wasn’t missing one minute at night.
Speaking loud and clear, Liz motioned with her hands. “Ladies and gentleman, we’re having some difficulties with the yacht. Please, make your way to the back so we can load up the lifeboats. Let’s do so in an orderly fashion and everyone will have a fun adventure to tell when we get home.” She smiled as she waved her hands toward the back.
As if fear had stolen their voices, the group did as Liz instructed mutely, their eyes wide. They jostled for a position in line that wouldn’t leave them left on the boat.
The captain had returned to his cabin. The pager on Liz’s waistband buzzed. She checked the code on the display. 377. Abandon ship. Only the captain could issue that code.
Had they really reached that level of desperation where they were all going to leave the ship? What had Liz thought? They were just evacuating people for the fun of it? No. It was okay. She would process everything afterward, while they sat on the lifeboats. Not a big deal.
She ducked past people, moving toward the lifeboats. She wasn’t sure what the captain was talking about with three lifeboats. She’d only ever seen two.
The deckhand and bosun shipmate stood at the back and at the bottom of the stairs. They held up their hands as they called out, “Before you get on the boats, you’ll get a life vest. These are going to be passed back now.”
Liz stepped down the last of the steps and grabbed the bright orange life preservers, passing them to the people behind her. She nodded. “Keep them going back. Don’t stop.” As fast as she could, she passed those vests to people who seemed to be quietly in shock. She didn’t blame them.
Even with the slight panic setting in, Liz couldn’t believe she’d been so bold with Lincoln. She needed the money and she would most likely lose her job. Even though he’d been nice about it, she’d never met her main boss and she wasn’t sure how he reacted to things.
Suddenly, as if her thoughts had conjured him, Lincoln moved into place beside her and grabbed more vests, passing them up the stairs two and three at a time. “Start loading them on the boats.” He glanced at the deckhands who nodded tightly at his command.
The boats were unhooked from their spots at the back and slid into position on the water. The sound as they entered the water seemed loud. The lights on the yacht flickered and the crowd cried out.
“One at a time on either boat. Let’s go.” The bosun and the deckhand each manned the entry point of one of the lifeboats.
They were down to a stack of maybe fifty life vests. “Does anyone else need a vest?” Liz called out, craning her neck to see if anyone spoke up.
Lincoln glanced behind them, watching as his guests moved from the larger boat to the much smaller ones. “I thought we had three boats?” He asked it as a question, his brow furrowed in concern. “Do we have the other one hiding or something?”
“I don’t think we have three. There was a spot for a third, but it looks like they replaced it with the fish cleaning station.” Liz didn’t want to point out that they’d all talked about that modification for months. The topic had even been discussed after she’d been hired. Apparently, the change had been done a few months before she’d been hired.
The captain might have forgotten in the concern of the moment.
As people filed down the stairs carefully, anxiously waiting their turns to get on, Liz turned to Lincoln. “I’m going to do a quick sweep through the rooms and make sure we have everyone. If we can get everyone off, then the captain doesn’t have to stay with the ship.” It was a maritime tradition that the captain went down with the ship, but there was no reason for that to happen.
Lincoln turned his hazel eyes toward her and nodded. “Be fast. Don’t try to be a hero.” He turned back to watch his guests climb on the boats.
Don’t be a hero. He didn’t know her. She wasn’t the hero type.
She worked her way up the stairs like swimming up river, muttering excuse me every few seconds. All she had to do was check the rooms and give the captain the go-ahead to leave the ship.
The boat pitched a little bit further to the right, and Liz gripped the handrails as she climbed. The people still on the yacht cried out, but not in a terrified manner. At the top of the stairs, the end of the line was made up of other crew members.
Liz reached out and squeezed the shoulder of the galley cook. He made it. She could get from the front to back in no time.
As she headed toward the stairs by the bow, the captain emerged from the stairwell. He shook his head. “We have everyone. I just finished checking all the rooms. You need to move along as well, Liz. Let’s go.”
Relief flooded her, releasing the tension between her shoulder blades. “Thank you, Captain. We only have two lifeboats. They’re almost full.”
He glanced at her sharply, his eyes narrowed. “The fish cleaning station. I forgot.” He took Liz’s elbow and moved her ahead of him as they rushed toward the back. “Let’s see if we can fit everyone anyway.”
Standing in line to get back down the stairs, Liz took a deep breath. She glanced over the railing, taking in the presence of the moon. The reflection of the light glimmered across the gently moving ocean but stopped with a large black shape rising out of the water.
Maybe the captain had issued a Mayday and a cruise ship or something worked its way toward them? Or maybe it was simply an island they could work their way toward.
Either way, Liz didn’t feel as desperate as the situation probably warranted. She glanced over the railing at the back to find Lincoln watching her.
She didn’t want to acknowledge an attraction to the man who rankled her the wrong way. At the same time, she didn’t want to think that a part of her had died when her ex-husband had demolished her dreams at happiness.
No. she could be attracted to Lincoln. It didn’t mean it was going anywhere except onto a lifeboat, probably different ones. He’d probably fire her and that would be that. She’d never see him again.
That possibility seemed worse than the fact that the boat was sinking.