A ‘tramp steamer’ bound for secret treasure…
When a bad former boyfriend tries to blackmail her with an undisclosed sex tape, Tess and her crew set sail for Buenos Aires. Also onboard their luxury cruise liner is Charlie ‘Chip’ MacAvoy, the dashing young cookie billionaire. What’s a beautiful con artist to do when the mark might just be the man of her dreams? Who is seducing whom?
After she says, “What the hell,” and gives in to a powerful physical attraction, Tess soon grows fond of saying, “Oh Charlie.” She says it a lot, at very special moments. At these special private moments, when she can speak, it’s about all she can manage to say. Her attentive passion reduces him to a single vowel. Often, a throaty “Oh” is all he can muster. It seems like a heavenly match.
But can she really trust Charlie? Will he be able to handle the truth, when he learns about the kind of work she has done? When the bad boyfriend shows up, Tess discovers that Charlie has secrets of his own. She’s faced some tough situations before, but she’ll need a miracle –or one great con- to survive this one.
The due date. It was just around the corner, and the clock was ticking. It wasn’t her biological clock that concerned her. Tess rarely thought about that anymore. Most women her age were struggling with ordinary thoughts of marriage and motherhood and achieving the normal, All-American goals so many of her sorority sisters in college had shared.
For a moment, she almost envied them. Why couldn’t life ever be that simple for her? Some of those young women thought they’d hit the lottery early out of charm school, right around graduation, with their generic so-called M-R-S degrees when they married soon-to-be doctors or lawyers and wound up staying home to raise perfect children with names like Nicole and Justin in big brick houses in wonderful tree-lined suburbs somewhere.
But that route had never been a priority, or at best, a choice. It was out of the question, really, for someone like her. Someone who knew the real score and all the underhanded illusions you had to deploy to win. Someone that knew how to play the game, run the long con and claim the big prize at the end. She was never the person those bubbly, cheerful college girls at Vassar thought she was. She deceived them to gain entry into their world.
They didn’t know her by her real name. Back then she was already working an angle. She didn’t even bother to learn how to type. She focused on developing social skills, her appearance, and the kind of charisma she would need to get where she hoped to be someday. Her classmates came from gated communities, and she came from the street.
She covered her tracks well, and like a chameleon, by dressing properly and maintaining the right look—something between a Neiman Marcus fashion model and the ideal wasp vision of the golden girl next door—she had managed to blend in and succeed in their tony ivy league society. She attended the hottest gallery shows and cruised or crashed the right parties, drinking and floating her way along with a crowd that rightfully assumed it would soon be running the world.
Here and there among these gatherings were the young Kennedys, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Mellons, and Rockefellers, and she knew them. It was part of her plan. The scheme that she and Uncle Phil had cooked up when she was just a teenager, when she was known as Maria or Marla or Sophie or Natalie, depending on the confidence game.
At this point it was getting difficult to remember her real birth name. After she’d been welcomed into their homes and country estates, the members of the ruling class would be horrified to learn the truth. During their summers at the Hamptons, they would trade stories about the time they spent with an impostor. That was why this was another kind of deadline—one that seemed nearly impossible at the moment. If she couldn’t pull this off, she was sunk.
Tess needed money. Lots of it. If she didn’t pay the piper soon, there would be hell to pay. She was no stranger to intense pressure. Tess had been under the gun before, but not like this. Over the years, she had faced dangerous situations and held her own, cool as ice.
Like a brave heroine in an old black and white World War Two movie from the 1940s standing before a firing squad, calmly asking for a cigarette and refusing a blindfold, she had played the game time and time again. When the going got extremely rough, she could maintain a good poker face, without blinking, if that was what it took. Uncle Phil told her she had nerves of steel. And style. Just for fun, sometimes, she would triumphantly toss her long blonde hair back and flash a potential lifelong enemy a dazzling smile when the curtain went down on a scam.
Despite the cool air-conditioned atmosphere in the bright, sunlit first class lounge high above the upper deck, sitting at the bar she was aware she was still perspiring from her morning tennis match with Martha Stewart’s niece. “Never let them see you sweat, honey,” Uncle Phil used to pat her hand and say, and whenever possible, she followed his advice, with sensational, trend-setting flair.
This time, however, there was so much more at stake. Everything they had worked for, all the sophistication, the look, the persona, that she and her mentor had tried so hard to fabricate for the long game could simply go poof! and evaporate into thin air. If the kind of notoriety she risked ever became public, eventually, people would forget about her. Then the absolute worst would happen.
In hiding, she would need to be ordinary. Invisible, or as invisible as any woman could ever be with her looks, and it was her own fault. She knew that. Uncle Phil was the only man she had ever been able to trust, and she had made the one type of mistake that someone in her profession could never afford to make.
She had dared to share her bed with the wrong man. A mean one.
If she didn’t pay that man the ransom he demanded, in a few days, he would publish his version of their little love affair, reveal sordid secrets from her past, release some very private pictures, and possibly post a compromising video on the Internet.
The last threat depended on the devious bastard’s ego. If the video really existed, Jack was in it, too. It wouldn’t be anything a Hilton or a Kardashian couldn’t survive, but Tess could immediately lose everything she had—the modest bankroll she had accumulated and the promising front she had labored so hard to construct.
Was Costa Rica an option? No, they had the Internet there, too. Someone would recognize her. There’d been Wi-Fi available on the beach that weekend when she’d stayed with the Walton girls at their family compound down there on the Pacific coast.