Chapter 1: Zach

“Where the hell is it?” the attractive brunette muttered to herself while frantically digging through her purse.

Zach smirked at her for a moment before asking, “What are you looking for?”

She shot him an annoyed glare. “My passport.”

Zach had been admiring her snug denim shorts for the last few minutes and had recognized the familiar rectangular shape in her back pocket. “What’s it worth to ya’?”

Her eyes narrowed at him as her face flushed red. “Are you messin’ with me?”

To avoid completely blowing his chances, he raised his hands along with his eyebrows. “Check your back pocket.” The instant shift in her expression from anger to embarrassment brought back his smirk as he lowered his hands.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasped as she pulled the passport out of her pocket to look at it. “I thought… I mean…”

“Zach Gilbert,” he said as he extended his hand.

“Jillian Cortez.” She shook his hand and gave a nervous chuckle. Zach saw the tension leave her shoulders as she relaxed. “Have you ever been to Eilean D’maichte before?”

“Nope, but a buddy came during their grand opening this summer and wouldn’t shut up about it. What about you?”

“I won this trip on that word puzzle game show.” The line moved forward again, and he watched Jillian kick her bag and step closer to the registration desk. “Hey, have you heard about the curse?”

Zach shook his head as he sat his bag down next to hers.

“Well,” she continued as she turned to face him. “Supposedly a Scottish pirate roamed these waters and kidnapped the daughter of a voodoo priest. The pirate traded her back for a spell that let him and his crew live forever, but the priest tricked him or something. I don’t remember the whole thing, but I heard he haunts this island.”

Zach laughed. “I’ve never heard that, but I wonder if they’ll give us a discount if we run into ghost pirates on Halloween?”

“It’s worth a shot!” Jillian said. He noticed she was giving him a good look-over with a flirty smile. “So, are you here alone?”

“Yeah,” Zach sighed.

He didn’t usually vacation alone, but he had to get out of town. Ever since his fiancée had dumped him and moved out in June, his whole life was off balance. Friends and family all treated him like he was dying, and then danced around mentioning Chloe, which only made it worse.

“What about you?” he followed up, quickly trying to shake the mood that threatened to cast a shadow over his trip.

“I was supposed to come with a friend, but she got sick at the last minute. No refunds or changes allowed, so here I am!” Jillian didn’t seem to notice his shifting mood, so Zach plastered on a grin to keep her interest.

“It must have been cool to win a trip on a game show like that.”

“I’ve always been good with words. I teach high school English. What do you do?”

Zach wished he had a teacher that looked as good as she did. Some might consider Jillian pretty, but Zach decided the brilliant smile that lit up her face pushed her over the line to beautiful.

“I’m in sales for a technology company, but I also teach mixed martial arts at a dojo near my apartment.”

“I knew you worked out,” she complimented as her eyes drifted over his arms and chest visible through his tight t-shirt.

“What about you?” he asked returning her open appreciation with his own. Her gentle curves fit her frame, only hinting toward voluptuous.

“I just go to a Pilates place near my school.”

“Well, it’s working,” he said with a chuckle, making her glance away from his eyes as her cheeks pinked.

They finally reached the front of the line and both ended up at adjacent agents to check in. Zach heard her mention living in Florida, which put her only a few hours away from his home in Atlanta. After getting their room keys, Zach followed her to the elevators.

“What floor?” he asked as they stepped into the lift.


“Me, too. What room?” he grinned.

“Eleven-twenty. What about you?”

“Eleven-eighteen. Looks like we’re gonna be neighbors.”

The resort had only been open since March, but the stonework and decor made it look like an old castle fortress that had been built into the side of the cliff rising above the beach. The touches of wrought iron and rough timber beams created the feeling of age, despite featuring modern amenities. The Halloween package Zach had purchased promised a room with a view of the ocean he was eager to see for himself.

“Here we are,” Jillian said as she inserted her cardkey into the modern lock on the rustic wooden door.

Zach did the same at his door and pushed it open. Bright sunlight streamed through the wall of windows opposite him. He was drawn to the view on his balcony as the door automatically closed behind him. The ocean stretched out until it met the curving disc of the horizon. Below him, the beach was accented with bright colored umbrellas between the verdant jungle growth and the azure surf. A concrete wharf extended out into the ocean just north of the hotel. A dredged channel to allow cruise ships to dock was visible as a deeper shade in the blue water next to the wharf.

A knock drew him back into the room and he noticed it was coming from the adjoining door between his room and Jillian’s. He opened the door to find Jillian looking like a kid in a toy store.

“Holy shit! Can you believe the view?” she gasped with her hands clasped under her chin.

“It’s amazing.” Zack glanced over her shoulder and saw a mirror image of his room’s king-sized bed, dresser, and bathroom. Her innocent expression confused him slightly, but he assumed her intentions. “You wanna hang out and see the sights together?”

“I’d love to! Just give me a minute to change.” She went back to open her suitcase on the bed, leaving the door open between their rooms. After grabbing a few items, she dashed into her bathroom with a wave.

He shrugged and did the same with his suitcase, picking out some board shorts, sandals, and a t-shirt before heading to his bathroom. When he came back out with a towel over his shoulders, Jillian was standing at his window looking out at the scene below. A turquoise one-piece swimsuit hugged her curves while a colorful wraparound skirt covered her hips and legs. The sunlight revealed her shapely thighs through the thin fabric, giving Zach a secret thrill.

“Ready?” he asked.

She turned with a wide smile. “Let’s go!”