A reluctant traveler. A stunning translator. Will being trapped in a failing resort seduce more than his money?
Caleb Doyle has few regrets about leaving the family business to follow his dreams. But when a heart attack puts his brother out of action, he's forced to save the Doyle's virtually bankrupt hotel business. He reluctantly travels to Thailand to evaluate a last-chance resort, though getting stranded with an enchanting local wasn't part of the plan…
Malee Wattana yearns to reunite her family all under one roof. But her play-it-safe lifestyle has always hindered her ambitions. Ignoring her fear, she risks it all to convince the handsome Canadian that the property has potential. When a landslide forces them into close quarters, she sees a whole different potential emerge…
With secrets and surprises all around them, can Caleb and Malee overcome their baggage to claim a suite at love's best hotel?
Thailand with the Tycoon is a light-hearted contemporary romance. If you like sweet courtships, family dramas, and happily ever afters, then you’ll love Alexia Adams’ delightful tropical tale.
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Copyright © 2019 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Excerpt From Thailand with the Tycoon
Caleb ran his fingers along the rock face, searching for a hold. He dislodged a pebble and it bounced down the cliff until he couldn’t hear it anymore. That meant he was near the top … and a fall now would definitely kill him. God, he was exhausted. Why the hell had he started his ascent this late in the day? If he wasn’t off the mountain soon, he’d either have to risk the climb in the dark or cling where he was until dawn.
But after the week he’d had, the need to escape the office and breathe fresh, clean, non-profit-oriented air had led him to his current situation. Starting his own venture capital firm—getting in at the start of some amazing businesses and ideas—had sounded like fun. But it had quickly morphed into constant meetings and investment reports. At least falling 700 meters down the Stawamus Chief would be a better death than his father’s: having a heart attack Friday night and being found Monday morning on the boardroom floor. No one had missed him, because he’d practically lived at the office.
But Caleb wasn’t ready to die just yet. There were a lot of things—a lot of women—he still wanted to do.
His fingers found a good hold, and he hauled his sorry ass another few centimeters closer to the summit. An eagle soared overhead as if mocking his puny efforts. Dangling on a granite dome was a damn sight more invigorating than reading about the next great investment, but it wasn’t how he wanted to spend his night. He pushed through his tiredness and concentrated on one hold after another until he crested the top, too exhausted to celebrate. Lying on his back, he waited for his heart rate to return to normal while the coldness of the stone seeped into his burning muscles. He rolled to his side and stared at the blue-green water of Howe Sound. He’d lived on the west coast of Canada all his life and traveled around the globe more times than he could count, but this sight always took his breath away. The pristine coastal mountains in the background hinted at adventure. And freedom.
Something kicked at his foot and Caleb turned warily, hoping it wasn’t a black bear trying to determine if he was edible. But unless the local wildlife had invaded an Italian shoe store, it was a human standing over him. And considering the inappropriate shoes, expensive suit, and silk tie still tightly fastened at the neck, it could only be one person: Harrison Mackenzie.
“Come to make sure I survived?” Caleb asked, pushing himself into a sitting position.
“When I didn’t see your broken body at the base of the Chief, I assumed you’d made it,” Harrison said, his voice as always carefully neutral. You never knew if he was excited or depressed. It made him a fabulous lawyer but an annoying friend.
“Great to know you were worried. What’s up?” Harrison and nature did not go together, as evidenced by his attire.
Harrison’s hands clenched tightly at his sides, providing the only sign something was wrong.
“You need to come back to Vancouver. I’ve had them reopen the Sea to Sky gondola. The helicopter is waiting in the parking lot.” Harrison turned as though expecting Caleb to obediently follow.
“Why?” Caleb stayed where he was, partly because his muscles weren’t ready to comply with his brain’s demand to move, but mostly because he hated being told what to do. That’s why he’d left the family business to his brother and branched out on his own. Unfortunately, he then became wildly successful, creating his own leg-hold trap of board meetings, contract negotiations, and endless investment reports. He should have opened a rock-climbing school or one of those ninja warrior gyms. Maybe that would be his next challenge: to finally do something he was passionate about. Perhaps it would soothe the itch inside that pushed him to take ever-greater risks.
“I’ll tell you on the way.” Harrison’s leather-soled shoes slipped on the smooth granite, and instinctively Caleb leapt to his feet to stop his friend from falling. Great lawyers were replaceable, but ones who put up with Caleb’s shit and took his calls at three in the morning were a little rarer.
“We need to hurry,” Harrison said, once he’d regained his footing.
Caleb crossed his arms, ignoring the protest of his muscles. “Unless you tell me why it’s so urgent I go back to Vancouver, I’m heading to Whistler for the weekend.” He narrowed his eyes. “If this is my mother’s latest way to summon me, you’d better start looking for a new job on Monday.”
He had a vague recollection of his admin assistant reminding him that his mother was back in town and expected him to pay her a visit. But he’d spent enough years dancing attendance on that woman. He was done playing her games. Besides, her lame attempts at pretending she cared were always simply a prelude to a request for money. She’d already gone through what his father had left to her. And with his brother’s company failing, she’d turned to Caleb to maintain her lavish lifestyle. In short, she expected him to pay her damn bills, even though she hadn’t called him once on his birthday since he’d left home at eighteen.
Harrison kept walking, not even turning around to answer. “I know better than to get between you and your mother. It’s Ian. Your brother has had a heart attack. And he won’t settle until he speaks with you.”
“Shit.” Ian was only eight years older than Caleb. Forty was way too early to have heart problems. At least Patrick, their dad, had made it to fifty before he fell apart.
Caleb followed Harrison down the path toward the gondola. Far below, he could see a helicopter in the overflow parking lot that wasn’t used this late in the season.
“Is Ian going to be okay?” There were enough years between them that they’d never been close as brothers. Ian had insisted that Caleb was making a huge mistake when he left the family hotel business to start his own ventures. His doubts had been a massive incentive for Caleb to prove his brother wrong by out-earning him.
Once that had been accomplished, the tension between them had notched up another degree. Now, they only saw each other three times a year: at Mother’s birthday party, the Doyle Destinations AGM—Caleb still held a minority share—and at the major fundraiser for the charity their mother had set up in memory of Patrick Doyle. Not that Claire wanted to memorialize a man who had been a shadow in all their lives. She simply liked being the center of attention, and this was her way to get it.
“They were still running tests when I left,” Harrison replied as they got in the gondola for the quick ride down the mountain. “His secretary found him slumped over his desk and called 911.”
“Who called you?”
“Your sister-in-law. Evidently, as soon as Ian regained consciousness, he started asking for you and became agitated. When you didn’t answer your phone, Sarah called me and requested I hunt you down.”
“My phone is locked in my car,” Caleb said. The gondola doors opened, and a cool breeze off the ocean swept over them. The warmth and adrenaline from his climb had worn off, leaving him chilled. He was going to hurt like a bitch tomorrow.
Harrison shouted as the helicopter blades started to turn. “I’ll drive your car back and leave the keys in your condo.”
Caleb handed over his car keys and ran for the open helicopter door. He’d barely got his seatbelt buckled before it lifted off for the flight back to the city.
The rubber soles of his rock-climbing shoes squeaked on the polished tile floor of St. Paul’s Hospital. The sterile air was a sharp contrast to the pure mountain freshness he’d been breathing half an hour ago.
The woman at the information desk did a double-take when she glanced up from her computer. “The emergency department is down that hall,” she said, pointing to her left.
He quirked an eyebrow at her reply then followed her gaze down his body. He hadn’t taken the time to change out of his skin-tight climbing gear, and his arms and legs were covered with the myriad scratches he’d gotten rubbing intimately against Mother Nature. He looked like he’d been dragged behind a bus for half a block.
“I’m fine. I’m here to see my brother, Ian Doyle. Has he been transferred to a ward yet? I was told he had a heart attack earlier today.”
“Oh, sorry.” Her eyes made one more appreciative pass over his body before returning to her computer. “Ian Doyle is in the cardiac unit, room 710.” She gave him directions to the ward then flashed another smile. “I’ll be here until eight if there’s anything else I can help with.” Her gaze locked on his. “Anything at all.”
He gave her a smile and a wink to make her day before striding down the hall. If there was one thing he’d learned, it was that nice, normal girls spelled trouble. Like, “wanting a relationship” trouble. It was far better to stick to shallow women who were only interested in a good time. Because that was all he had to offer.
He paused outside the designated room, getting his game face ready. His brother’s agitated voice, as well as his sister-in-law’s calming one, floated through the thin walls.
“Hey, who said you could take a holiday?” Caleb said in the cheeriest tone he could manage. He wrapped an arm around his sister-in-law, Sarah, to give her some support. His mother sat in a chair the other side of the bed, doing something on her phone. She didn’t even glance up at the arrival of her youngest child.
“Caleb.” Ian’s pale face relaxed a fraction, and the heart monitor showed a decrease in his pulse rate. “You have to go to Thailand for me.”
That wasn’t the request he’d expected. Caleb turned questioning eyes on the petite woman next to him. His twin five-year-old niece and nephew were absent, probably with one of Sarah’s family. They were far too young to be without a dad. Caleb would do anything for them.
“Ian was supposed to leave for Thailand tomorrow to finalize negotiations for a new hotel,” his sister-in-law said, her voice quavering. There was a desperate fear in her brown eyes. “But as you can see, he can’t go.”
Caleb took in the beeping monitors that counted his brother’s heartbeat, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and other functions the healthy took for granted.
He tightened his arm around Sarah. He’d always liked her; she was the opposite of his mother. Her quiet strength and no-nonsense approach suited Ian completely. How his brother had convinced such a lovely woman to join their frigid family, he had no idea.
“Surely that can wait until you’re better,” Caleb replied. It was no secret that the hotel business his father had started in the early eighties was facing extinction. People expected something different from their travel experience now, and Doyle Destinations hadn’t kept up with the times. It wasn’t Ian’s fault that their father had so meticulously groomed his eldest son to follow his lead that he’d forgotten how to think independently.
“No, it has to be now. There’s another bidder. We have to buy it within the next week. This is the best chance I’ve got to turn the company around. Without this resort, we’ll go bankrupt in eighteen months.” Ian’s heart rate accelerated while he talked, and his face turned even whiter.
“Please, Caleb.” Sarah’s soft plea stabbed him right in his ice-shrouded heart and did more to convince him than his brother’s recitation. Damsels in distress were his weakness. He could never resist playing the hero. But one more property wasn’t going to turn Ian’s company around. The whole enterprise needed a major overhaul.
He turned back to his brother. “All right. I’ll go. But you promise to get better and be out of here by the time I get back.” He gripped Ian’s hand where it fidgeted on the bedsheet and gave it a slight squeeze. The differences in their ages and temperaments meant they’d never been close. And given the arctic vortex they’d grown up in, a hand squeeze was about all either of them was comfortable with.
The icy wind that was their mother chose that moment to look up from her phone. In Claire Doyle’s mind, the world revolved around her.
“Before you leave, Caleb dear, I need to have word with you about my finances.” Trust his mother to discuss money at his brother’s hospital bedside. A smile from her would have shocked Caleb into his own heart attack. There were a lot of things you could change in life; Claire Doyle wasn’t one of them.
“Talk to my accountant,” he replied. “I need to go pack.”
It really wasn’t the time to go gallivanting off to the other side of the globe, but at least this trip to Thailand would warm
him up after the chill of being in the same room as his mother. A few quiet days of pampering in a luxury Thai resort while he negotiated on his brother’s behalf would be his reward for having to run two companies until Ian was back on his feet again.
And here he’d thought falling down a 700-meter cliff was all he’d have to worry about today.
Malee dug her fingernails into the dashboard of her cousin’s open-top Jeep. So far, the day had been a complete disaster. This was her first job in three months, and she was on the verge of losing it before she’d even started. The early bus she’d intended to take into the city had been full. Then she’d had to beg her cousin Bodin, her least favorite relative but the only one with a vehicle, to drive her to Nan. Instead of being cooled by the bus’s air conditioner, she was being buffeted with hot, humid air. Monsoon season was never pleasant. Coupled with inner turmoil and a dash of sheer panic, Malee was on the verge of a meltdown. Possibly literally.
To top off her day from hell, the pharmacy where they’d stopped to collect her grandmother’s prescription had been out of the antibiotic. Phoning around to find the drug had eaten up another precious hour.
She should have let Bodin collect the medicine after he dropped her off at the airport, but he’d been so distracted that she had to remind him three times on the drive from their remote village to stop at the drugstore. He’d always played the village idiot, but he seemed to have ascended to the king of fools’ throne recently. Still, he was a close relation. And you had to respect relatives, no matter their IQ. Family was the center around which life revolved.
And the nucleus of Malee’s life was her maternal grandparents. Yai, her grandmother, had been battling pneumonia for three months now, and if she didn’t complete this course of antibiotics, she could end up back in hospital, or worse. A tremor swept through Malee, and she clutched the dash tighter.
Bodin took another corner too fast, and she clenched her eyes shut to avoid seeing the inevitable collision. The memory of another car crash flitted through her mind. What she wouldn’t give to forget…
“Malee, about this job… Don’t screw it up.” Bodin took his eyes off the road to stare at her and narrowly missed a minivan with a flat tire at the side of the road. At least her horrified gasp at the near-miss gave her time to formulate an appropriate reply. He’d already inferred six times in the past two hours that she couldn’t cope with a simple translation assignment. I’m not the stupid one here, Bodin.
“I am qualified, cousin.” She put as much deference into her tone as possible. Thai custom dictated that she be respectful of her older relative, even if he was being a condescending jerk. Since her grandfather’s accident, Bodin had become the de facto head of the family, a position that commanded deference even if the incumbent didn’t.
But thirteen years in the Western world had dulled that instinct in Malee. She forced a smile. “If there’s one thing I can do, it’s speak both Thai and English fluently.” She’d lived in London with her mother from the age of twelve.
It was a simple enough assignment. She was to collect Ian Doyle and translate for him in his negotiations to buy the run-down resort near where her grandparents lived in northeastern Thailand. The original owners had never made a success of the place, so she had no idea why this Canadian figured he could do better. Most tourists to Thailand expected pretty beaches and wild nightlife, not dense jungle, masses of mosquitoes, and minimal electricity after dark.
It was more than just her job on the line. If this Canadian hotelier bought the resort and fixed it up, it would provide much-needed work for the little village where most of her relatives still lived. Maybe Malee’s mother could come home from London at last. The whole family could be together after fifteen years apart. A flicker of hope overrode the terror of her cousin’s driving for an all-too-brief second.
The only visitors to this part of the country were backpackers seeking the “real” Thailand. Like the country had to stay in the seventeenth century to be authentic.
Well, you didn’t get much more “real” than unemployed. And if she didn’t arrive at the airport in ten minutes, that would remain her reality.
“You sure you don’t want me to wait? I can drive you both back to Pakang Yao,” Bodin said as he screeched to a halt in front of the arrivals terminal at Nan Nakhon Airport.
Letting her reckless cousin drive her new boss would undoubtedly result in instant dismissal. “It’s okay. I’m told he has his transport organized.”
Bodin cut the engine and put his hand on her arm, stopping her from getting out. “Malee, about the resort. You know it would mean a lot to the village if it was reopened. You have to convince this foreigner to buy it.”
“I’m just assigned to translate.”
“You can do more than that. A pretty girl like you, I’m sure you can be persuasive if you want.”
Bodin, you are an arse. First you doubt I can speak English well enough, and now you want me to flirt to get a farang to buy a pile of junk that no reasonable Thai person would take two looks at?
She lowered her head so he couldn’t read the anger blazing in her eyes and cheeks. “The info I received from the translation agency said he’s married with two children.”
Bodin frowned and kept hold of her. “I’m not asking you to disgrace the family. Just show him the potential of the place. Come on, cousin. Do it for the villagers. Think of all the jobs you’ll bring back so the young people don’t leave for the city.”
Like she needed more stress to add to her already churning stomach. Bodin wasn’t the first to bring it up. Word had already spread about the potential sale. The village’s fate rested on her shoulders. “I’ll try. But I’m not sure how much I can do.” She climbed out of the vehicle before her cousin could launch into a lecture.
“Make it happen, Malee.” With those parting words, he restarted the Jeep, slammed it back into first gear, and sped off to the blaring of horns from the cars he cut off.
Malee tucked her bag with her change of clothes under her arm and strode toward the airport doors. Bodin’s vehicle was never clean, and she hadn’t wanted to dirty her dress before she arrived. Please, let one thing go right today and give me enough time to change. Mr. Doyle was coming by private jet, and she’d only been given an approximate time of arrival.
The automatic doors opened as she approached, and a very tall, blond man strode out, looking like he’d come to claim Thailand for his own. Everything about the man shrieked conqueror. His pale hair glinted in the sunshine, showing hints of red. A strong jaw and full lips next grabbed her attention. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored aviator sunglasses, but based on his coloring, they were probably either blue or green.
A good Thai woman would lower her gaze and shuffle past without ogling. Malee wasn’t a typical Thai woman. She wanted to examine every inch of him. The cultural war within her was damned difficult.
About to move around him as he stood staring at the passing traffic, she stopped abruptly. He wasn’t dressed in shorts and sandals. Not even a T-shirt. Instead he wore a full suit and tie that emphasized his broad chest and lean physique. It couldn’t be…
“Mr. Doyle?” she asked, praying she was mistaken. This hunk of manhood would make even a proper Thai woman forget about appropriate conduct. A quick glance at his left hand, clutching a briefcase, showed no sign of a wedding band. Was he one of those men who took it off when he traveled? The thought alone was enough to turn her stomach. “Sorry, I must be mistaken.”
“I’m Doyle,” he said. Damn if his voice wasn’t dark molten chocolate. “You’re not by chance Ms. Wattana?” He removed his sunglasses as his gaze slid over her. The interest in his green eyes was quickly replaced by cool detachment. Had she imagined it? Unfortunately, it didn’t stop a shiver of awareness from sweeping through her.
She didn’t dare glance at the reflective glass of the airport building to see what she looked like. She could only imagine that her hair was tangled around her head in great clumps, since she’d been holding onto the dashboard too desperately to secure it. She could taste the dust on her lips, feel a trickle of perspiration pool in her bra. This was not the picture of professionalism she’d intended to present. And here he was, having come off an international flight, looking immaculate and sexier than any married man had a right to be.
She put her palms together and bent forward in the customary Thai greeting. “Sawatdee-kah. Yes, I’m Malee. I apologize for my clothing. I’d intended to change before you arrived.” Her shorts were a couple of years old and faded in the backside, her T-shirt declared Westlife as the best boy band ever, and her sandals had seen better days as well. She’d planned to throw the whole lot in the rubbish after she’d changed.
Mr. Doyle’s eyes swept over her again, leaving a trail of tingles in their wake. He gestured at his own outfit. “You’re dressed more appropriately than me. It must be forty degrees Celsius. I’m going to melt if I stay in this suit much longer.”
“It will be cooler once we get into the mountains. The information package I received said you already had transportation arranged to the resort location.” She forced her eyes from the column of tanned skin that appeared as he loosened his tie and undid the top three buttons of his shirt.
Puzzlement flicked in his gaze. “Do I? I skipped over all the technicalities about how to get there as I concentrated on the hotel specifications.” He pulled out his phone and began searching.
Malee tilted her head. From the details she’d been provided, Ian Doyle had been in discussions about the property for several months now. Her job was simply to translate as required and ensure there were no items being discussed that he didn’t understand.
“There it is. I’m to be met by you here and then we are to proceed to the car rental desk, where a vehicle has been reserved. Do you drive, Malee?”
He turned those amazing green eyes on her once more. “Yes, I drive, but not very well.” Certainly not on mountain roads ruled by huge buses and transport trucks and littered with pedestrians, farm animals, wildlife, and hitchhiking tourists willing to risk their lives to save a few baht. And definitely not with this definition of distraction sitting next to her.
“That’s fine. I can drive if you can navigate.” He reentered the terminal building, and Malee followed behind. Maybe she should call Bodin and get him to drive them to the resort. But subjecting Mr. Doyle to her cousin’s death-defying driving style seemed a bit extreme.
At the rental desk, he smiled at the woman behind the counter. A flush crept up the attendant’s face and her eyes took on a dazed quality. God, was Malee wearing the same stupid expression? The rental car woman shot a look at Malee and seemed to dismiss her as competition. “How can I help you, sir?”
“You have a car reserved in my brother’s name. Ian Doyle. I—”
“Your brother?” Malee blurted out. “So you’re not married?”