Sapphire Sunset (Sapphire Cove)
by Christopher Rice, C. Travis Rice

Published: 2022-03-01T00:0
Paperback : 396 pages
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For the first time New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice writes as C. Travis Rice. Under his new pen name, Rice offers tales of passion, intrigue, and steamy romance between men. The first novel, SAPPHIRE SUNSET, transports you to a beautiful luxury resort on the sparkling ...
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For the first time New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice writes as C. Travis Rice. Under his new pen name, Rice offers tales of passion, intrigue, and steamy romance between men. The first novel, SAPPHIRE SUNSET, transports you to a beautiful luxury resort on the sparkling Southern California coast where strong-willed heroes release the shame that blocks their heart's desires.

Logan Murdoch is a fighter, a survivor, and a provider. When he leaves a distinguished career in the Marine Corps to work security at a luxury beachfront resort, he’s got one objective: pay his father’s mounting medical bills. That means Connor Harcourt, the irresistibly handsome scion of the wealthy family that owns Sapphire Cove, is strictly off limits, despite his sassy swagger and beautiful blue eyes. Logan’s life is all about sacrifices; Connor is privilege personified. But temptation is a beast that demands to be fed, and a furtive kiss ignites instant passion, forcing Logan to slam the brakes. Hard.

Haunted by their frustrated attraction, the two men find themselves hurled back together when a headline-making scandal threatens to ruin the resort they both love. This time, there’s no easy escape from the magnetic pull of their white hot desire. Will saving Sapphire Cove help forge the union they crave, or will it drive them apart once more?

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Chapter 1

The jacket was a perfect fit. A sign of good things to come, Logan thought.

After he’d aced his final interview and background check, management at Sapphire Cove provided him with three matching blazers and three pairs of khaki pants to go with them, all tailored to measurements they’d taken in their back offices.

Now, standing before the only mirror in the trailer he’d shared with his dad for months, Logan smoothed the lapel bearing the hotel’s bright gold logo with both hands. Then he smoothed it again. The gentle motions quieted nerves that had been vibrating for days.

It wasn’t just a blazer. It was a promise the hotel had kept, as evidenced by the way it flattered his broad chest and bulky shoulders. And kept promises were exactly what he needed.

Truth be told, he’d gone back and forth between dreading his fancy new gig and nursing excited daydreams about it. Fantasies of escorting some Harry Styles type to his private villa, only to have the gorgeous little Hollywood twink slide his phone number into his palm. And as an added bonus, maybe his new movie star husband would be the type who didn’t drag every Marine he met for wars said Marine didn’t start or vote for. That would be a refreshing change of pace.

Before he could savor this swell of contentment over his new uniform, there was a deafening crash from the kitchen.

He found his dad ass flat in front of the refrigerator, one hand holding to the handle above his head. Logan figured the old man had gone over sideways when he tried to open the door. When he saw his dad’s new silver crutches leaning unused next to the sofa in the main room, his jaw ached, which told him he was grinding his teeth in frustration. Again.

“Old man, I swear to God with you.”

“I just wanted a sandwich,” Chip groaned.

“Then ask me to make it for you.”

“You were getting ready.”

Logan hoisted his dad to his feet, no small feat given they were about the same size.

“And you were doing that thing you do when you’re nervous.”

“What thing?” Logan let Chip’s arm slide from around his upper back, lowering his dad carefully onto the worn sofa.

“That thing where you clear your throat over and over again and pace like an elephant. You know, like when you’ve got a date.”

“It’s not a date. It’s a job. And elephants don’t pace. Those are tigers, which is what I’m going to turn into if you don’t start taking your recovery seriously.”

“What if I get hungry while you’re at work?” Teeth gritted against the pain, Chip rolled onto one side like a beached whale.

“Sally will be over in two minutes.”

“Christ on his throne,” Chip grumbled.

“Let’s try for Chip Murdoch on his sofa, like the doctor ordered.”

Chip’s eyes rolled back into his head, and he groaned like he’d been stuck in the gut. And that was the idea. Sally was the only other resident in their trailer park, besides Logan, capable of frightening Chip Murdoch into silence. Her secret was that when Chip shouted at her, she shouted back louder and faster until Chip shut up and got tired. It was genius. But it was also a painful reminder. They were leaning on their neighbor because Logan’s beloved gay moms were both gone now—Fran felled by a heart attack shortly after Logan joined the Marines, and Pam finally claimed by her years-long battle with cancer last winter. Just a whiff of chamomile tea would bring a lump to Logan’s throat, transport him back to their kitchen in Fallbrook where they’d spent so many special hours. He and his dad could sure use some of their wisdom now.

Logan’s dad waved his hands through the air as if he could make the prospect of Sally’s imminent arrival disperse like cigarette smoke. Before Sally finished her harsh series of knocks, Logan opened the door, and in walked their neighbor, a proud tank of a woman who dressed solely for comfort and looked at everything in her path like she thought it might try to bite her and that was a good enough excuse to kick the living crap out of it before it tried. “Am I allowed to hit the sauce during this gig?”

“Wait until baby’s asleep, at least.” Logan gave the woman a half hug and a peck on the cheek.

She stood over the sofa and glared down at Chip like she was deciding which cuts from his body would make the best steaks.

Logan headed to the bathroom to brush his teeth, but the trailer was small enough that he could hear every word as if he were still standing next to the sofa.

“It’s payback time, Chipster.” Sally planted her hands on her hips.

“For what, Sassy Sally?” Chip kept his forearms crossed over his face like a vampire trying to avoid the sun.

“You think I didn’t hear that thing you said to Lizzy Ramirez a few weeks ago? About how I look like I let my pit bull do my hair?”

“Son, you couldn’t make other arrangements?”

“This one seemed like a fit,” Logan called back, then spit.

“So did it work?” Sally asked his dad. “Did she sleep with you? ’Cause she told me she’d rather date my pit bull, so I’m just asking, is talking smack about my hair going to be a winning strategy for you around these parts or are you ready to give it up and learn some respect for women?”

“Son, are you paying this woman?”

Logan swirled his mouthwash and spit. “We worked something out, yeah.”

He spritzed himself with more cologne. A special brand with a name he couldn’t pronounce and a price tag that had made him swallow. But it smelled nice, and it seemed classy enough for a place like Sapphire Cove. When he returned to the living room, Sally hadn’t budged from where she stood over her patient-slash-victim.

“I’m not going to have you sexually harassing my son in exchange for the chance to ruin my weekend, woman.” Chip was staring up at Sally now, trying to look tough, even though the rest of his body wasn’t along for the ride.

“He’s fixing my dishwasher, you old perv,” Sally said.

“Likely story.”

“No one’s getting sexually harassed,” Logan said.

Sally sat down on one arm of the sofa. It looked like she was contemplating whether or not to knock him to the floor. “No, but I know someone who’s gonna have to go put up with a bunch of rich bastards at the beach tonight just to take care of your old bones. You might want to thank him instead of giving him the ass.”

“Right now, you are the only one giving anyone the ass, lady,” Chip said.

Logan patted his dad on the chest. “I might be late, Pop. I’m going to take all the shifts they give me.”

Suddenly Chip grabbed his wrist, holding it with unexpected strength. When Logan looked back, he saw something new in the man’s eyes. Pain, guilt, a vulnerability he’d never shown when he was younger. A man who needed to be taken care of and feeling plenty of guilt over the reasons why.

“Thank you.” In the silence that followed, even Sally seemed moved, as evidenced by the fact that she’d stopped harassing his dad.

Logan gave his dad a quick peck on the forehead and patted his chest, when what he really wanted to do was throw his arms around the old man and tell him it was all going to be okay. Because that was Logan’s job. To make everything okay. And he had a ways to go. Because right now things were hovering at marginally shitty.

As he headed for the door, his father called out, “And don’t let those fancy fuckers give you any shit. Half the folks staying there probably won the trip in a contest or something.”

“Got it, Dad.”

He was halfway to his truck by the time his dad started his usual speech about how no one who flew first class had actually paid for the ticket, how they either used miles or their companies footed the bill. Logan had heard it all before. And if it was how Chip made himself feel better about where they’d ended up, that was fine.

One thing was true.

Logan was about to drive out of a world where first class was something you made fun of and into a world where most people considered it a reward for a job well done. No more part-time bouncer gigs at that club in Anaheim that played nothing but Insane Clown Posse, where more than one female patron had become physically violent with him when he’d told her he wasn’t into women. He was officially joining the security staff at a resort one travel website referred to as the jewel of the Orange County coast, independently owned by the same family since its founding in the 1960s and with a reputation for treating its employees almost as well as it treated its high-paying guests.

Working security at a place that nice would require a softer, classier touch.

Did he have it, or would he say the wrong thing to some billionaire guest and get his ass, and his dad’s health care, kicked to the curb on day one?

Logan had never considered himself much of a design person, unless you were talking about Minecraft blocks. But a few hours into his first shift, the lobby at Sapphire Cove was melting his heart.

Maybe it was the giant crystal chandelier that sent shimmers across the white marble floor or the contended laughter of guests drifting in from Camilla’s, the hotel’s main restaurant. It could have been the gardenia-scented candles flickering inside the small, mirrored cubbyholes that flanked the entrance to the gift shop. Or maybe, after years of deployments to places where none of the locals had welcomed the arrival of his Marine Expeditionary Unit, Logan just enjoyed being somewhere people seemed happy to see him.

There was a hard tap on his shoulder, and a now familiar voice barked, “What’s up, Jarhead?”

Buddy Haskins was exactly the type of guy Logan had expected to be working with when he’d landed the job. Thick as a brick wall, but standoffish in a way that said he didn’t have any law enforcement or military experience and was threatened by Logan’s. He spent most of their department meeting earlier sending dick pics to various women. Logan hoped the women had actually asked for them.

“Maybe a new nickname, Buddy,” Logan said.

“How ’bout Bullet Sponge?”

Awesome, Logan thought. A deliberately insulting term more tech-reliant branches of the military used for Marines. Buddy knew this, he was sure. Not because he’d served. But because he was a prick.

“I’d prefer Jackass, to be frank,” Logan said.

“Deal.” Buddy slapped Logan on the back. “How’s lobby duty, Jackass?”

“One nine-year-old kid who tried to smuggle out a bedside lamp in his backpack. Other than that, not a lot of bullets for me to sponge up.”

“Look, I know it might not seem like as big a deal as the Marines, but if you don’t think this job can get rough, wedding season’ll prove you wrong, I guarantee it. One time this bridesmaid got drunk and two hours before the ceremony told the bride that she thought her dress looked like a car accident. Sheesh. That was war, my friend. An all-out war. I think there’s still a dent from a champagne bottle in the wall over there. The groomsmen even got involved, and by the end there were helicopters, you understand me? Hel-i-copters.” To make his point, Buddy tugged at the collar of his dress shirt to reveal scars left by what looked like a single claw mark, a claw made of manicured nails. “Bridesmaid Battle, May 2015.” He tapped the scar with one finger. “Never forget.”

“Copy that.”

“All right.” Buddy clapped his hands then rubbed his palms together. “I got an assignment that might give you some more excitement. Javier called in sick, so you’re going to help me guard the prince’s graduation party. Follow me.”

“The prince?” Logan asked.

A real prince? The hotel was nice, but it wasn’t that nice. According to Logan’s research, Sapphire Cove did its briskest celebrity business with fading reality starts hosting their second and third weddings.

“Oh, you haven’t met him yet? Hoo, boy. You’re in for a treat.”

When they entered the wide corridor for the conference and event spaces, their feet swished over a thick spread of Pepto-Bismol and turquoise carpeting. The wedding off to their left had a loud and mostly off-key band, but at the end of the corridor on their right, the metal push bars on the ballroom doors rattled with fast-paced techno bass beats.

“Seriously, who’s the prince?” Logan asked.

“Connor Harcourt, owner’s grandson and the GM’s nephew. He and most of the graduating class from UC Irvine are having a big blowout tonight in the Dolphin Ballroom. Our orders are to make sure it stays, and I’m quoting, contained and private. Translation—don’t let any college grads puke up their guts on the lawn outside, and don’t let any hotel guests in to steal the free booze.”

Buddy stopped and turned so quickly Logan almost smashed into him.

“Oh, and I’ve got some barf bags back in the office in case you need ’em.” He waggled his eyebrows like he and Logan were in on some secret together.

“For what?”

“Well, let’s just say the Harcourt kid’s got a fruity flavor, if you know what I mean.”

Logan felt a wave of tension sweep his body from head to toe and saw Buddy flinch, which said the anger had written itself on Logan’s face.

“Tangerine or pomegranate?” Logan asked before he could stop himself.

“All right, dude, don’t get all PC on me. I’m just trying to warn you. You will see guys mackin’ on each other in there, so steel yourself. And don’t go hauling off on anybody if they check you out. A guy like you, all muscly and moisturized, you’re gonna be just their type.”

Their type? Logan thought. Jesus.

Sapphire Cove wasn’t a tent revival church. But from what he’d seen of it, the resort’s security team was a lot of hard guys looking for a softer route in life so they could either regroup or cash in. Logan didn’t want to make assumptions, but he was pretty sure they weren’t all gay friendly, and the ease with which Buddy had made his barf bag comment didn’t exactly persuade him otherwise.

Logan felt a familiar, uncomfortable flutter in his chest, not as bad as the one he’d get helicoptering into hostile territory, but close. The flutter he’d get whenever someone who had the power to screw up his day asked him if there was a special girl in his life, and he just stood there, time stopping as he wondered whether he should tell an outright lie or just a lie of omission, weighing which one of the two would take a bigger bite out of his soul. No, ma’am, no special girl or Just haven’t met the right one yet.

There was a price for going where you were outnumbered or unwelcome and trying to succeed, and it didn’t always take the form of a door being shut in your face on the first day of the job. Surviving was one thing, but if you tried to get ahead, people were less tolerant of your mistakes, quick to paint your natural screw-ups as a result of your so-called identity. If it wasn’t exactly like theirs. In other words, you had to be perfect all the time. That’s what coming out now would really mean. Nobody would try to get him fired right off. They’d just start judging him by a harsher standard than anyone else, an effort designed to wear him down and eventually make him quit.

Well, if that turned out to be the case, they could suck it. He’d survived multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He could survive some bigoted knuckleheads in the security department of a posh resort. Especially with his dad’s medical bills at stake.

Logan stopped walking and stood his ground. “No barf bags for me, thanks. Since I pay pretty good money to watch college guys mack on each other online, I figure I’ll just add it to my spank bank. Maybe save myself a buck or two.”

He braced for a punch in the stomach. Which was insane because A, they were working, and B, Logan was about twice Buddy’s size and could easily flatten him. But he didn’t plan to take another step until Buddy addressed his insult in some way.

“Aw, shit. Sorry, man.”

“About what?” Logan asked.

“That you gays can’t get free porn the way we straights do.”

Logan had to admit it was a pretty nice save, and Buddy delivered it with a winning smile. Still, the dude’s assertion that two guys kissing was vomit-inducing was going in Logan’s asshole bank. And it wasn’t like Buddy had apologized for the comment.

As if to make nice, his grinning coworker held open the door to the lawn outside and gestured for Logan to step through.

Just to their right, the Dolphin Ballroom’s terrace doors were open to the night, the flashing lights from the dance floor pulsing across the river of manicured lawn that sat between the terrace steps and an elegant balustrade that marked the approximate edge of a cliff that plunged to the resort’s private crescent of beach far below.

There was no denying it—the thing that had allowed Sapphire Cove to stay independent was its prime real estate. It sat atop a promontory that gave it three different sets of stunning views—either up or down the coast or straight out to sea.

Personally, Logan preferred the vistas north and south. After dark, they featured twinkling coastal hills plunging toward the pitch-black ocean, whereas the view straight out to sea was just black. The resort didn’t have any guest rooms on its eastern wall facing the motor court. Maybe not the best decision for the hotel’s bottom line, but it meant there truly wasn’t a bad view in the house, a fact trumpeted on all of Sapphire Cove’s promotional materials.

The weather was beyond Southern California excellent. Warm, but also breezy enough to rustle the giant palm trees lining the resort’s ocean-facing façade, making a sound like gentle rain.

By day, the hotel was four stories of pastel-pink confection that looked like a freshly baked cake seconds away from melting in the bright sun. At night, pinpoint lighting accentuated the many curves in its ocean-facing walls, turning it into a modern art sculpture nestled in a jungle of palms. At the base of the cliffs, the dark Pacific rolled toward Sapphire Cove’s private beach beneath a vault of stars.

Buddy stepped onto the ballroom’s empty terrace so he could take up a post next to the open doors. Logan did the same, scanning the crowd inside.

He was impressed by the party’s setup. Maybe even a little dazzled. Lighting rigs had been brought in to give the ballroom a dim, blue hue with bright white accents, and the walls were covered with digital projections that shifted around each other like schools of lazy tropical fish slowly circling the room. But they weren’t fish, they were detailed collages. Pictures of the graduates, it looked like, interspersed with the university’s logo. The ballroom must have had five hundred guests in it, most of them on the dance floor. No way could they all have been included in these images, but the closer he looked, the more it seemed like that was exactly the case.

“Who put this shindig together?” Logan asked.

“The prince did. Family footed the bill, of course, but he’s a little party planner.” Buddy said party planner like it was the only gay slur he was allowed. “About to start in the events office here now that he’s graduated.”

Logan looked in the direction Buddy had just jerked his head, and his heart stopped.

Aw, God, no, please don’t let that slice of heaven be the owner’s grandson.

Talk about a dangerous temptation.

Bright blond hair in a perfect side part, big blue eyes, and an infectious, boyish smile offset by cherubic cheeks. Dance moves that said he knew how to turn himself into a fluid, pliable love machine in the bedroom. In the words of his best friend, Donnie, Logan liked guys he could fit into his back pocket but would kick their way out in five minutes because they were so full of energy and sass.

A high and tight little butt didn’t hurt either, and Connor Harcourt was certainly sporting one of those. And in gray and white plaid pants tailored to show it off, no doubt.

He danced without fear. Smiled big and easy whenever he broke to take a selfie with his friends.

And he had dimples. The guy actually had dimples.

And he was a college graduate, which meant there was only about four years between them, even if right now Logan looked like twice the grown-up in his blazer and khaki pants and sporting an earpiece.

Stop doing the math. He’s not for sale.

Suddenly Connor wasn’t dancing anymore.

He was sprinting across the crowded ballroom. Protective instincts surging, Logan took a step forward until he saw Connor’s destination—the spot where a server had hastily left a tray of champagne flutes right inside the swing radius of the catering kitchen’s doors. The server had a good excuse. She’d been knocked backward by a colleague who’d come bursting through those very doors seconds earlier. Server one was now trying to hide the fact that her nose might have been broken as server two tried to help her without dropping his tray. Both looked up from their huddle in time to see Connor reach out and stop the door before it crashed into the flute-filled tray.

Frightened, they looked to their rescuer with dazed expressions, clearly terrified their jobs might be on the line.

Logan was too busy wondering how Connor had sensed the near collision from halfway across the room. Did the guy’s Spidey senses work on things besides trays full of champagne?

Whatever Connor said to the servers had them laughing and relaxing their shoulders, even the lady with the possibly broken nose. Connor moved in closer, studying her face, then giving her a light pat on the back when he didn’t see any blood. With Connor’s blessing, the injured server hurried off into the kitchen to tend to herself. Hors d’oeuvres guy started circulating. Meanwhile, to Logan’s total amazement, Connor picked up the champagne flutes and started carrying them through the ballroom. Some of the guests whooped and hollered, probably because they assumed the only reason the guest of honor would be carrying booze through his own graduation party was if he planned to chug it all himself. But Connor was intent to serve, and he didn’t stop until the tray was empty.

Rich as all get-out and covering for one of his own staff. That’s unexpected.

And it was pretty clear, given the collages and the way Connor served his guests, he didn’t think of himself as the guest of honor. Not the only one, anyway.

Suddenly, Connor was distracted by a guest who danced right past him with a blinking glow-necklace around his throat. He pulled the guy close, pointed to his neck, and asked him some question over the music. That’s when the guest pointed out the little dude who’d started handing out the new party favors. The gift giver was about Connor’s size, with ink black hair and brown skin. Connor headed straight for him, his attention stolen right at the moment when Logan thought their eyes were about to meet.

When Connor caught up with his best friend, Naser Kazemi was weaving through the crowded dance floor, handing out fistfuls of blinking plastic necklaces that made Connor’s skin crawl. Given how gratefully his gifts were being received, the Dolphin Ballroom would soon look more like a rave than a resort.

And that was not okay.

“Nas, a word please.” Connor guided him to the edge of the dance floor with a hand against the small of his back. They were about the same compact size. Pocket gays is how they’d refer to themselves in polite conversation, fun size if they were setting up an Internet dating profile. Despite the fact that they were evenly matched at five foot, four inches, Connor had once been able to wrestle Naser off the sofa in their apartment during a fight about the outcome of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hopefully, such a use of force wouldn’t be required in this moment. But he wasn’t willing to rule it out.

Naser had to be stopped. Immediately.

Whenever he was required to do something other than stay home and calculate things for fun, Connor’s best friend and roommate wore a similar outfit. A slim-fit Express dress shirt that was a neutral color—tonight it was beige—and black jeans completed by black dress shoes that could not be less suited for a night of drinking and dancing. It probably wasn’t that big a deal. Naser danced like he was constantly afraid his mother was going to burst out of the crowd and drag him off the floor, demanding to know why he was making a fool of himself. It was a not very acrobatic routine that consisted of stepping side to side vaguely in time to the music, shooting humorless glances in either direction as he did so. Occasionally, Connor would grab his arms and raise them into the air, but Naser always retracted them quickly, as if his best friend had tried to tickle his pits.

“Why am I in trouble?” Naser whined. “I thought I was contributing. You said you wanted me to contribute.”

That actually wasn’t true, but he wasn’t going to fault Naser for trying to loosen up a bit. He was also sloshed. In keeping with someone who was allergic to any gathering of over five people, Naser had spent the last hour thoroughly buzzed off one swallow of champagne.

“You hate the glow sticks? No!” Naser wailed. “You told me to bring something fun.”

“Well, for starters, these aren’t glow sticks.”

“I guess not, but the party store was out, and these glow so…” Naser stared woefully down into the bag as if the revelation that sticks and necklaces were two entirely different things was one he’d be processing for a long time. Possibly in therapy. He was so disconnected from the idea of a party in general that in his eyes one annoying blinking thing was as good as any other.

“They are, but Naser, I actually suggested party hats. Not glow sticks.”

“Did not!” Naser gave him a shocked stare. “You did not. You specifically told me to bring glow sticks.”

Which these aren’t, to his own gratitude, he managed not to say.

“Actually, I said if you wanted to help out, bring something like party hats or feather boas or some sort of costume element…” that doesn’t blink or glow or throw off the lighting design I spent hours calibrating.

“Okay, well, the call must have dropped out then because all I heard was glow sticks and how you think I’m no fun.”

“Those were different conversations. Naser, stop. Stop with the Bambi eyes.”

But Naser’s Bambi eyes were a potent weapon—big and dark and swimming and capable of filling with whatever emotion he wanted to fill them with. He’d used them to great effect over the years on his mother and sister and pretty much anyone else in his huge family of A-type personalities, on whom he’d sharpened his innate skills as a budding accountant and all-around human Day Planner. Throughout the years together at UC Irvine, their friends joked that Connor was destined to throw all of life’s great parties, and Naser would make sure they didn’t bankrupt anyone or catch fire.

Connor curved an arm around his best friend’s back and pulled his face to his chest, a move that allowed him to deftly snatch the bag of hideous blinking necklaces out of Naser’s hand.

“I never said you weren’t any fun,” Connor said, even though he knew it was kind of a lie.

“You said some people are the life of the party, but I’m the ICU of the party.”

“A year ago.” Connor started pulling Naser toward the nearest bar so he could secure his best friend some caffeine to go with his buzz. “When I was drunk. And that’s because you started reading a book at my birthday party.”

“It was a good book.”

“It was a pool party, Naser, and you were in the pool. Look, I commend your attempt to create a distribution event that raises the energy of the guests on the dance floor past the party’s halfway point, thereby distracting them from the fact that their second wave buzz might be wearing off. Unfortunately, these necklaces just do not work with my lighting plan.”

“I understand. Can I go home and read now?” Naser asked.

“No. There’s still party left.”

“But I’m doing the party wrong, and my feet hurt,” Naser whined.

“You’re not doing the party wrong. It’s my fault for not giving you clearer instructions. And it’s your party, too. However, due to a tragic misunderstanding, we’ll need to eject this jewelry of the damned. These necklaces are not on the guest list.”

“Are they on the guest list?”

Connor followed the direction of Naser’s look.

At first, he guessed the three middle-aged men stumbling their way onto the dance floor might be family members of graduates. But only a few guests had brought relatives, and Connor had met them all. These guys were not among them. They looked like they’d come from the golf course by way of a Hooter’s. Their polo shirts were bright primary colors, and one of them actually wore plaid golf pants. All three were sweaty and ruddy-faced and leering at Connor’s friends Jose Villa and Ken Hong, who were bumping and grinding a few feet away. Jose and Ken had been a couple since junior year, so they moved against each other with the intensity of people who knew each other’s bodies top to bottom.

Connor read the signs immediately: drunken douchebags, probably guests of the hotel, with enough liquid nerve to harass the one dancing gay couple they’d spotted as they’d walked past the open terrace doors outside.

The three men fanned out on all sides of Jose and Ken, parodying their moves with the grace of stoned penguins.

“Uh oh,” Naser mumbled.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Connor made a beeline for the invaders.

Drunky McGolfpants was doing his own version of a bump and grind against Jose’s back. But it was more bump than grind, and God, if it didn’t look like the guy was punching Jose with his crotch. Jose spun, finger raised. Connor had enjoyed enough wild nights in West Hollywood with Jose to know nothing good ever came of that raised finger. For the person standing in front of it, at least.

“Could you stop, dude?” Jose asked.

“Oh, wassa matter?” McGolfpants slurred. “You don wanna dance with me. I’m not pretty enough.”

The music was still pumping, but the confrontation was drawing the attention of the other dancers.

Connor was calculating the best way to play both cool host and bouncer when a sudden, powerful force gripped his right shoulder. He spun, fearing another interloper had snuck up on him. Instead, he found himself staring up into a face that looked very sober, very focused, and so handsome Connor wondered if he’d accidentally been dropped into the pages of a men’s fitness magazine he totally bought for the articles on nutrition, promise.

“I’ve got this, Mr. Harcourt.” The security agent’s voice was full of confidence and authority.

His nametag read Logan, and he was clearly new to the security department.

Because if Connor had laid eyes on him before now, it was entirely possible he would have thought of little else since.

He was tall. Not basketball player tall but climb-you-like-a-tree-and-hold-on-in-the-wind tall. Broad shoulders and a thick, muscled neck, and hands that looked like they were sculpted out of marble. Tan skin and fine dark hair. There was something adorable about the way he’d styled his hair into a side part, making it look like a boyish hat atop a guy who was all brawny man below. A small mouth and hard jawline gave a vaguely angry cast to his face, but it was offset by his expressive brown eyes underneath dark eyebrows that made him appear slightly devilish.

Maybe it’s the eyebrows. They’re making it look like he’s undressing me with his eyes. But it’s an illusion, that’s all. The guy was probably straight, which meant that in addition to being as hot as lava, he’d be about as good for Connor’s ass.

Connor, who usually talked a mile a minute, was speechless.

True to his word, Logan stepped past him. But it felt to Connor like he waited as long as possible before removing his hand from Connor’s shoulder.

Jose and McGolfpants were now shouting in each other’s faces, and his buddies, Drunky Dee and Drunky Dumm, were closing farther in, acting as if Jose’s reaction to their friends’ provocation was somehow worse than the provocation itself.

In his ear, Naser whispered, “Who is that security guy?”

“I don’t know,” Connor whispered back. “But I think my shoulder had an orgasm.”

And, of course, at just that point, the music stopped, allowing the shouting between Jose, Ken, and their uninvited dancing partners to rip through the room. But it was quickly silenced by a commanding, decisive voice.

“Gentlemen, is there a problem?” Logan asked the crew.

“Yeah, yeah.” Golfpants tried to stand up straighter and point a finger at Jose at the same time. The combined effort almost sent him over sideways. “This guy here’s getting all worked up over a little joke—”

“I wasn’t talking to you, sir.” Logan turned to Jose. “Everything all right, guys?”

“No.” Jose crossed his arms and stood his ground, looking sober as stone. “These guys are drunk and they’re harassing us and they’re saying all sorts of anti-gay crap.”

The douches erupted in a slurred chorus of protests, most of it about Jose being too sensitive, and Ken chimed in with, yes, pansy is actually a gay slur when you shout it at a gay man you don’t know.

“Are you guys guests of the party?” Logan asked.

“Musta thrown out the invite,” Drunky Dee slurred.

“’Cause it was perfume scented,” Drunky Dumm added.

“I’m going to take that as a no, which means it’s time to come with me.”

Golfpants leered. “You just want to get us alone so you can dance with us like nobody’s watching.”

Logan grinned. “Actually, if I dance with anyone tonight, it’ll be Baby Blues over there. He’s more my type.”

Logan threw a look in Connor’s direction when he said it.

Connor’s face got hot. Logan’s cheeks were flushed too. When their eyes met, there seemed to be a slender crack in the guy’s stony composure. Maybe he was only joking and when he saw the hunger it brought to Connor’s eyes, he regretted saying it. But another part of him thought, Straight guys don’t make jokes about other men being their type.

“I think you’re Baby Blues,” Naser whispered into Connor’s ear.

“Maybe it’s you,” Connor whispered back.

“My eyes are brown, queen.”

“Chestnut. And they’re gorgeous.”

“Thanks, sweetie, but don’t deny the obvious.”

“He was kidding,” Connor whispered.

“Nah uh. You’re Baby Blues,” Naser insisted.

“Is this real?” Connor whispered. “What’s happening? Is he real? Did I hit my head?”

“All right, gents. I’ll show you back to your rooms.” With a closed fist, Logan gestured in the direction of the nearest exit doors.

The three drunks stood their ground, a portrait of wobbly entitlement.

“Nah, I think we’ll hang out a bit,” Golfpants asserted. “Maybe get ourselves a drink.”

Logan walked up to Golfpants until they were nose to nose. “I think you won’t.”

“Is that what you get paid to do around here?” Golfpants asked. “Think?”

“You don’t want to see what I get paid to do, sir.”

“All right, guys.” Buddy Haskins, who’d been with the security department forever, suddenly emerged from the crowd like he’d seen enough. If that was the case, why had it taken him so long to react? He wasn’t a guest. “Let’s clear out.”

Logan took a step back and gestured for the party crashers to file past him. Golfpants went first, then suddenly spun in Logan’s direction. What happened next happened so fast Connor figured Logan was either waiting for it or a superhuman. Logan caught the man’s flying fist and used it to wrench the guy’s arm around his back. Golfpants yowled but was instantly immobilized. Now Logan was using the guy’s arm like the handle of a lawnmower, driving him across the dance floor and toward the exit. Once they saw this quick and efficient display of force, Drunky Dee and Drunky Dumm walked ahead of Logan, heads bowed, eyes on the floor, as Logan drove his prisoner past Connor.

When they were inches apart, Logan winked at Connor. “Enjoy the party, Mr. Harcourt.”

Connor couldn’t remember the last time he’d been winked at like that.

And he certainly couldn’t remember the last time a wink had sent shivers racing down his spine.

And as much as he wanted to stay right where he was in hopes of being hit by another wave of the guy’s woodsy cologne, his guests had been harassed, and he needed to tend to them. But as soon as he threw his arms around Jose and Ken in turn, it was clear from their excited chatter they also couldn’t think about anything except Logan.

Whenever a punch was thrown during a security incident, the aftermath could be time consuming for everyone involved. The sheriff’s department might get called. Internal paperwork would have to be filed in case of a lawsuit.

So Connor waited an appropriate amount of time before embarking on the plan he’d thought up in the back of his mind while calling out numbers for the alumni association’s raffle. After congratulating the winners, he stepped out into the hall, bound for the lobby.

It was totally normal and not weird, what he was about to do.

He was the party’s organizer, the grandson of the owner, and soon he’d be working in the events office. Hell, it was his responsibility to check in on what had become of his homophobic party crashers. Even if it meant asking the incredibly gorgeous Logan incredibly detailed questions about everything that had transpired. And even if said questions were an excuse to gaze into the man’s dark eyes.

These rationalizations were still circling in his head when he heard footsteps scraping the carpet in his direction and looked up to see a man who challenged his notion of what family meant.

Connor screwed on his best polite smile.

His uncle, clad in his self-styled general manager’s uniform of black blazer, white dress shirt, and black dress pants, didn’t return it.

According to family legend, there was a time in Uncle Rodney’s life when he’d looked like Brad Pitt, but this was a time lived out only by Uncle Rodney, apparently, because in the old photos Connor could find, Rodney looked more like a slim Donald Trump with slightly better hair. And Connor was no expert at hotel management. Yet. But he’d been doing his homework ever since he was a young boy, and to his eyes, Rodney was more talk than skill. He could pour on the charm, for sure, wining and dining with the best of them—with the emphasis on the wine part. But he had to because the day to day of his job consisted of bringing in new conference clients to replace the old ones he’d alienated with broken promises. Unfortunately, Connor’s grandfather was sold on his youngest son’s bluster and confidence, which is why he’d placed Rodney in charge of the family’s sole prize possession, Sapphire Cove.

“Heard we’ve got some dirty dancing going on in there?” Rodney asked in a tone that made it sound like Connor’s graduation party was an unacceptable indulgence for the property.

“I’m sorry. Dirty?” Connor asked.

“Apparently we had an incident.”

“Yeah, but not with dancing. With homophobic harassment is more like it.”

“I see.” But Rodney was looking everywhere Connor wasn’t.

“You do? Because dancing is not what caused those guys to touch my friends inappropriately and call one of them a pansy.”

“They’re being dealt with, sport. Don’t run to Twitter over it.”

“I do Instagram. And you were coming to update me?” Connor asked.

“No. I have news. I need everyone out by ten.”

“Ten?” Connor couldn’t keep the anger from his voice. “That’s two hours earlier than we agreed.”

“We’re getting complaints.” Rodney studied the thumping doors to the ballroom as if he thought a giant, snarling dog might barrel through them at any moment.

“From who?”

“From the guests. Who do you think, sport?”

“It’s nine thirty, and we’ve turned the music down twice already when you asked. And we ran sound checks today from points all over the hotel and everyone said we’re well within—”

“We’ve got a banquet in here first thing in the morning, and we need to turn over the room.”

“You didn’t know this before now?” Connor asked.

And which is it? he thought. Noise complaints or turnover time?

“Plans change.” Rodney’s tone suggested Connor didn’t need to be told why.

“It’s my graduation party, Uncle Rodney. It’s not like it’s going to happen again next year. I’m probably never going to graduate from anything again.”

“Yeah, well, your life is kind of one nonstop party now, isn’t it, Connor?”

“Hopefully. I’m about to start working in the events office. Parties are literally my job.”

Rodney gave a long sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose as if logic, especially when it came from his only nephew, gave him a headache. “The Laguna Hills Auxiliary Society is one of our biggest clients. I’ve got to move their annual breakfast out of the Seahorse Room because we’ve got a leaky pipe in the ceiling. If you really want my job someday, sport, these are the types of emergencies you’re going to have to learn how to deal with.”

“My graduation party has been on the books for four years. And it’s not just my party. It’s their party. Almost everyone I’ve ever talked to in my graduating class is here. And the last time I checked, this hotel’s got three ballrooms. Why does the breakfast have to be in this one?”

“Ten thirty.” Rodney glared at him, aggression replacing condescension. “Music off at ten fifteen.”

“Music off at eleven.”

“You’re pushing it, Connor.”

“Actually, Rodney, I’m planning it. The Berry-Stein wedding started before dusk, which means they’re going to be winding down in another hour too. Which means if you clear everyone out of here at ten thirty, you’re going to have a crush at the valet stand and an Uber and Lyft line that backs up all the way down the hill. That spells a ton of angry drunk people, most of whom will leave furious Yelp reviews on our profile first thing in the morning while they’re marinating in the sour soup of their hangovers. To say nothing about the state of your inbox by tomorrow afternoon.”

Connor was so proud of this little speech he was tempted to finish it off by tapping his uncle on the tip of his nose. But he figured that might earn him a swift kick in the ass.

He’d never gotten along well with Rodney, but recently something in the man’s attitude toward him had shifted and gotten worse. Did he actually see Connor as a threat to his job? That was ridiculous. If Connor really was going to run Sapphire Cove someday, that day was so far off in the future there was no reason for Rodney to worry about it now.

“Music off at ten forty-five.” Rodney’s smile was so false it made Connor wince.

“Thank you, Uncle Rodney.” Connor hated that he was having to show gratitude for holding his uncle to an agreement he’d made years before for a party Connor had been planning meticulously for months.

As Rodney headed off, there was a brief blast of music behind Connor, followed by the sound of the door clicking shut. Naser emerged, sober expression betraying he’d overheard everything.

“He’s shutting us down early.” Connor slumped against the wall next to where Naser stood just inside the hallway.

“Dick,” Naser said.

“Don’t pretend to be upset. I know you want to go.”

“So? It doesn’t mean you didn’t do an amazing job. I just can’t stand being around a lot of people unless we’re all playing the same board game.”

“Well, if we ever graduate from grad school, I’ll arrange a five-hundred-person game of Scattergories.”

Naser reached up and ruffled Connor’s hair. “Don’t be sad, Blondie. There’ll be other parties, and you’ll throw them all.”

Connor smiled, but inside he was wondering if his uncle had planned to sabotage his graduation party from the moment they’d put it on the books. Rodney had treated Connor like an idiot for as long as Connor could remember, but this latest move was more aggressive than that. This was hostile. And it was coming just a week before Connor was scheduled to begin his employment with him.

“Thanks,” Connor said. “Let’s get the gift bags ready. Looks like we’ll be handing them out earlier than we thought.” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. How do you feel about Logan’s choice to pour cold water on his attraction to Connor at the beginning of the book? Do you think he made the right call given his family situation, or do you think they could have found a way to make it work?

2. The moment that makes Connor fall hopelessly in love with Logan is when Logan stands up for him to Rodney in the hotel’s lobby. What was the moment that made you fall in love with the person you consider to be the love of your life?

3. In the final chapters of the novel, Connor reveals the extent to which people have treated him unfairly over the years because of his “gay voice” and mannerisms some consider to be feminine. Where in your life do you feel you’ve been discriminated against because of your mannerisms?

4. If you were in Connor’s position, would you have been willing to negotiate with Rodney to clear Logan’s name, even after everything Rodney had done?

5. Even though “Sapphire Sunset” is a romance novel, a lot of the book is about family. Talk about the most special relationship you have in your family of origin.

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