Hooked on a Feeling Chapter One

            When was the last time I fucked a woman? No strings attached. John would love to be doing that right now. Instead…“Dad, it’s easier to deal with if it’s on my phone.”

            “Why does everyone want things run off their phone nowadays? I can hardly manage to read my emails from the damn thing without it taking a picture.”

            “A screenshot,” John corrected him.

            John Davenport III had two problems. First, his father’s dynasty, Blue Horizon Yachts, was no longer the king of yacht building. The second problem was that if John argued his case too much, his father wouldn’t retire and leave his eldest son as CEO. It helped that he knew exactly how his dad operated. That Davenport stubborn streak ran far and wide. Deep.

            “We have a solid clientele who comes to Blue Horizon because they trust us. They know what they’ll get. They depend on us to give them the best yacht money can buy.” John Davenport Jr. was a businessman, through and through. He was proud of Blue Horizon, which had been passed down to him when his father, John Davenport Sr., retired back in the eighties. The family had done a great job of keeping the bottom line in the positives, despite not having quite the top-notch touches John would like to see.

            “I know we do, Dad. But we can grow our clientele to epic proportions. Advancing our yachts into the modern digital age—and beyond—isn’t a recipe for failure. Especially with the advancement of technology and people making millions off it, a lot of people buying yachts are younger than ever before.” He would never wish death on anyone, least of all his father, but was that what it would take to get his dad to hand over the CEO role? Would death be the only thing that would allow John Davenport Jr. to hand over the reins to the company? “They live off the digital age.”

            “We have a fine list of folks who are happy with our services. You know what’s important to them? Being out on the water. Luxury. Owning a ship unlike their neighbor’s ship. We give them all of that when they purchase a yacht from us. They get attention to detail. They get personalized service from us that they do not get anywhere else.” His dad leaned back in his office chair, and his eyes flitted to where the Blue Horizon’s logo blazed on his computer screen.

            Once John took the helm, updating the logo was first on his list. And sex. Lots of sex. Celebratory sex. Yes, it was well-known, but every brand in history had gotten an update at one point or another, and it was damn well time Blue Horizon got theirs. John walked a delicate line. He couldn’t get too brash on all the things he wanted changed.

             “Dad, all I’m saying is that our competitors are light-years ahead of us. I’ve put together a course of action based on months of research where improvements could be—”

            “We do not need to fix what isn’t broken. Sales last quarter were higher than the past three. That tells us that we are doing what we need to do.” His dad went back to looking through information about their newest customer—a British man who’d just signed a contract for a 120-foot custom motorized yacht. It didn’t help John’s case that this man was a new client.

            John tapped his pen back and forth, staring out his father’s office window, certain he had time to get a run in.

            Nothing would change until his dad retired and John became President/CEO of the company. Then he could start implementing his ideas. In the meantime, he was forced to bite his tongue, keep his head down, and do his job. But it didn’t prevent his blood from boiling. He could legitimately feel the pulse throbbing in his neck. If he touched it, the beats would far exceed the doctor’s recommended beats per minute.

             He turned away from the derelict marina and faced the stubborn old goat. “I’m just saying, there are a lot of things we could do to modernize that would put us in the catbird seat without losing our integrity.”

John’s brother, Jersey, VP of technology, felt the same way. That was one thing John had in his back pocket when their father retired—the family business was run with the lot of them. Seven brothers and sisters—all under the age of forty—with six of them working within Blue.

            “Sir?” His father’s assistant stood at the door. “Your next appointment is here.”

            “Thank you, Carol.” He glanced at his son. “We can talk more later. I’m curious to hear how your meeting went with the new carpet importers.”

            John suppressed an eye roll and stood from his chair. Out of all the things his dad could have wanted to hear about, he’d chosen the new carpet imports. It sometimes felt like a lost cause. Maybe John was an idiot for wanting to attract more business, wanting to take their company from great to greater. Maybe it wasn’t worth it.

            John stalked down the hallway, passing each of his siblings’ offices along the way. There was nothing better to clear his mind than running during his lunch hour. He had to figure a way around his father’s resistance to change. He reached into his office and grabbed his duffel bag and made his way to the bathroom to change. 

            He didn’t want to disappoint his father. But something had to change. It had to be a gradual process. With the help of his little sister, Reed, they could at least work up a new logo. Reed had won awards for her design skills, and between the two of them, they could cook up an amazing, updated logo that would turn heads. He was sure of it.

            He tugged his running clothes on and tied his shoes, tossing the duffel bag on the floor in the corner of the bathroom. He put in his earbuds, tucked his phone into his armband, and hit his playlist. The welcoming May sun beat down on him, warming his insides, the second he stepped outside. This was the magic of Emerald Port. On the Gulf Coast of Florida, the air smelled like salt and sand. Sun and humidity.

            There was no better place to be.

            John did a few stretches and took off on his usual running route. He waited for the drawbridge to close, waving at Darlene, who managed the booth. Once the bridge was down, he set off across the road to the other side of the harbor. His phone rang and he almost declined it, but a quick glance at his sleeve showed the call coming from Italy. Intrigued, he stopped running and answered. “This is John.”

            “John. I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time. This is Domenicio Alessio. Gianni’s cousin.” His accent was strong, but John knew Gianni’s family had lived in America for the last century, not Italy.

            “Domenicio. Your timing is perfect. You spending time in Italy now?” John hadn’t spoken to Dom for months, and he wouldn’t say they were close friends by any means, but with both of them being in the shipbuilding world, they were acquaintances.

            “Only here for the next few months. I don’t have a lot of time now as I’m getting ready to hop on a plane to Como, but I wanted to throw this pebble at you and see what would happen.”

            “Shoot.”

            “Thinking about opening Benetto in the US along the coast of North Carolina. Looking at purchasing Crystal Lines. I’m sure your family has seen they’re shutting down productions.”

            “We did.” John wasn’t sure what that had to do with Blue aside from competition.

            “You have enough experience, so what about moving up there and running it? CEO of the US counterpart. Full benefits. Bonus package. You’d have free reign to do what you wanted.”

            John stilled at the offer. “This is unexpected. And too good to be true.”

            “What would be too good to be true would be you leaving the family business and coming to Benetto. You run it the way you guys do Blue, it would put you in a class of your own.” He chuckled. “Financially speaking.” 

            “You’re serious about this?”

            “I wouldn’t call if I wasn’t. Think about it. I’ll call you in a few days. Wife and I have family to entertain, and then I’ll be back in the office. But I could use a guy like you. You’re smart. You hustle. You know what this business is about and play the politics well. I’m willing to pay you your value.”

            “I’ll expect your call. Thanks, Dom.” John’s gaze landed on the Emerald Port Marina and Yacht Club. He hung up. Man, the place had really gone downhill. How could those people not care about the family business? Not care about all of the surrounding buildings and how they all do their parts in keeping the harbor looking classy, clean, and up-to-date? It was sad, really. Not to mention the freaking goldmine of an opportunity it was. Why wouldn’t they just sell it?  

            He would love to buy it. The main building—home to the marina office, The Beach House, and the restaurant, The Shipwreck—was shaggy, worn. It had been obvious from his first glance that both the house and office building needed a new roof and a fresh coat of paint. As time went on, the boat slips emptied out and weren’t leased. 

            Just a few boats remained in the slips. John knew for a fact that one of them was the houseboat of Lyle Thinner—groundskeeper, maintenance man, or whatever role someone needed him to fill regarding the property—even though he didn’t live on the boat itself. 

            Had Dom really just called offering him a CEO role? It was crazy. Blue Horizons and Benetto had both been in the shipbuilding industry for over fifty years. They’d shared a mutual respect but nothing more. Still competitors at heart. But to offer him a job? Such an important role in their company. It was unbelievable. Maybe he’d be enjoying celebratory sex sooner than he thought.

            John jogged closer to the marina, the wooden slats vibrating under the soles of his shoes. To his right, the Gulf of Mexico shone like the beautiful diamond she was. Birds chirped along the harbor, and a few ducks waddled across the path in front of him before they went into a full-on frenzy and flapped their wings to get out of his way.

             John could feel in his bones that everything in his life was on the right path. Admittedly, Dom’s proposal was intriguing. Maybe sending John on the right path had nothing to do with Blue but with another company entirely.

~

            Starr Young followed the throng of people out of the airport and into the pickup lane. Lyle had assured her that he would be waiting when her plane landed. Ugh. It was humid in Emerald Port, already adding bounce to her meticulously straightened hair. She liked Emerald Port, but now she was second-guessing her decision to list her grandparents’ beloved Emerald Port Marina and Yacht Club for sale for her parents. That was all she came to do. Pack up the house, donate their belongings, and make sure the property got sold so her parents could squander their inheritance. All but the five percent they promised her once the property sold.

            Her mom and dad refused to spend the money to travel to Florida even though this was their deal. Dangling the money in Starr’s face worked in their favor. She needed more money to expand her yoga studio. With the bay next to hers open and her lease coming up for renewal, she had sixty days to commit to renting the additional bay and remodeling it to align with her current space. Shit or get off the pot was where she was at. Five percent of the property in a real estate market like today’s would double the size of her studio and allow her to take on more clients. 

            Plus, she felt bad. She couldn’t ignore her grandparents’ legacy like her parents could. It was important to her. Coming here was the least she could do, for the money of course, but also for her grandma and grandpa. She hoped they would be proud. Grandpa sure as hell had to be rolling over in his grave because of his son and daughter-in-law. 

            The Shipwreck, once bustling with locals and tourists looking for fine dining, was shut down. The Seaside Store that kids used to count on to find snacks and boats to fill up on gas was no longer the go-to place because there wasn’t anyone to run the marina. With her parents’ lack of interest in the marina and cottage, or the very desirable land it was situated on, any human would be questioning what was up her parents’ ass.

            Money. That was what. That was the only thing they cared about.

            “Starr! Over here.”

            She turned at the sound of Lyle’s voice. Sweet and gruff. Lyle Thinner had been the caretaker of the marina since her grandfather had run the place. His slow gait toward her reminded Starr that as much as she didn’t want to be here, it was better that she was. Most people Lyle’s age would be retired by now.

             “Lyle. It’s so good to see you.” She pulled his small body into a big hug. His frail arms were stronger than they looked, practically stealing the air from her lungs when he hugged her back.

            “Been too long, kiddo,” he said. It had. Two years ago at her grandfather’s funeral, and before that, it had been the previous year when she’d flown down with just her dad and Summer to her grandmother’s funeral. “Where are those parents of yours?”

            Starr let go of Lyle and looked into his eyes. When a man as old as Lyle—older than her father was—seemed to be getting around just fine, she hated to talk about her dad and his myriad of health problems. Problems she wasn’t sure were severe enough that her parents couldn’t have come down here themselves and handled the marina. But that was always the excuse—health and money problems. “Dad’s knees have really been bothering him. Think he’s going to get knee surgery soon. And Mom is Mom. Has to take care of Dad.” And by “take care,” Starr meant making sure the two of them had an ample amount of marijuana for them to smoke and plenty of time to watch TV. Lyle took her suitcase, and she followed him back to his truck, where he hoisted her luggage into the back of his truck bed. She hopped into the passenger seat, and he went around the front and got in.

            Lyle was kind enough to just nod when he got into the driver’s seat and slowly pulled away from the curb. “Well, I suppose someone has to help him out. He has back problems, too, doesn’t he? I remember years ago they came down here to visit your grandfather, and Doyle couldn’t help with the bumpers for the dock because of his back.”

            “Yeah, he still has back problems. Knees. And then, of course, his COPD and all that.”

            “How’s your mother’s health?”

            Starr shrugged, thinking of her mother’s latest complaint. “Good. As far as I know she’s doing fine. Still smokes like a chimney.” Cigarettes and marijuana. “How have you been? How is the marina?” 

            “Oh, it’s seen better days.” He looked across the truck before taking the interstate toward Emerald Port. 

            Starr got the feeling that Lyle wanted to tell her more, but she pressed her mouth shut and stared out at the ocean. The drive from the airport to Emerald Port was twenty minutes, making Emerald Port a hot spot for tourists and locals. In the two years she’d been gone since her grandpa’s funeral, the landscape had already changed so much. Old businesses were no longer present, and new condominiums had been built. But one thing remained the same, and that was the glorious greens and blues of the Gulf Coast.

            “I swear the ocean gets prettier every day,” Lyle said, “but maybe it’s just my eyesight diminishing that makes me think so.”

            Starr shook her head, loving the way the water made her feel weightless. Happy. Like she had life in the palm of her hands. She wouldn’t trade her home in Colorado and her yoga studio for anything, but there was something magical about the water that made her feel content. “No, I think you’re right. The ocean gets prettier every time I see her.” Waves crashed along the beach, which was filled with quite a few people. It didn’t matter what time of year it was, the beaches were always flooded with tourists and locals, only slowing down around August. The kids would soon be out of school, too, making the beaches that much more packed.

            “You miss it here?” Lyle asked.

            Starr sighed. How did she explain that while she loved and missed her grandfather and cherished the memories of all the amazing vacations she and her sister had had here as kids, she didn’t love it enough to want to be here forever? Thank God she and Summer had grandparents willing to fly them out alone and keep them for most summers. “I miss my grandpa, and I miss Nana.”

            Lyle turned the truck off the interstate and along Gulf Boulevard. People milled up and down the streets, walking hand in hand. The Surf Shack was still there, as were a few other businesses. Blue Horizon Yachts was still the conglomerate, taking up nearly half the harbor. She stuck her tongue out at their obnoxious sign. That family only cared about money. Lyle stopped at the light, waiting for the drawbridge to close as one of Blue Horizon’s yachts meandered out into the sea.

            “Some things never change, Lyle.” When they crossed the bridge, her heart dropped into her belly at her first full-on view of the marina. “Oh my gosh, but some things apparently do. What happened?” Starr’s heart squeezed, seeing the property for the first time since her grandfather had passed away. In her mind it was still like it was when her grandparents were alive and running it. The bright-blue buildings where the welcome center, restaurant, and store were located just steps from the harbor were no longer the Hyper Blue color her grandma raved endlessly about—more like a sad blue.

            “I’m seventy-nine, Starr. Can’t get around like I used to. Can’t do the upkeep like I used to in my heyday.”

            Boats were anchored on just a few slips along the dock, with the majority empty, water sloshing against the sides of the dock slips, making the reality of the situation that much more difficult to bear.

             Lyle cleared his throat. “Sorry, kiddo. Funds quit coming in after the first year without Harold.” Lyle pulled to a stop in the large parking lot that once would have been so packed with cars, it would have been difficult to find a spot. He shut the ignition off and turned to her. “Funds meaning from your parents. You know that, right? They just take, take, take.”

            Starr blinked back the water in her eyes threatening to spill over. Memories crashed through her of when Emerald Port Marina and Yacht Club was the place of all places. When The Shipwreck was full of energy and bustling with waiters and waitresses delivering steak and fresh fish. When little kids ran in and out of the Seaside Store holding candies and slushies while their parents filled up their boats. She closed her eyes, not wanting to look, not wanting the memory of better times to be tarnished by what was in front of her. “Why?” she whispered. “Why do my parents want to ruin every good thing that happens to them?”

            “Some people aren’t cut out for running a business, let alone one that’s a thousand miles from their home.” He opened the door. “Come on. I’ll grab your luggage.”

            Starr reluctantly got out of the truck and stared at the former masterpiece. It was all the same—the cottage and the marina which housed the welcome center, aptly named The Beach House. The backdrop of the harbor was still stunning. The dock slips were all there and beyond them a small boat ramp and barren land. But her eyes went back to the buildings. So many things were wrong with them, she couldn’t even imagine what was happening internally with the structures. 

            “I had the house cleaned for your arrival.” Lyle walked past her, rolling her luggage behind him. “There isn’t any food, though, so you’ll have to hit the store.”

            She followed Lyle, fear clutching her stomach at what she might find inside the house. The wooden floors gleamed. The room was warm from the blinds being opened, allowing the sun to shine through. It was basically just as she remembered. To her left, the door to her grandfather’s office was closed, and she could almost hear him scolding her and her little sister, Summer, over slamming doors and running inside. That had only happened once, and he made sure the door had been locked from then on.

             “All the linens are new,” Lyle said. “Lydia picked up some new ones and made up the bed in the guest room down the hall for you.”

            “Thanks, Lyle.” She shifted her rolled-up yoga mat and set her water bottle on the kitchen counter. Suddenly, she just wanted a few minutes alone. Some time to think.

            “Not a problem.” He turned to face her, hands on his hips. “I’m sorry this burden is falling on you, Starr. But what you see is what you get. Harold was my friend, and I’m not going to let this place sit and rot. As best as I can help it anyway. But when you’re ready, we need to have a long talk.”

            Starr wiped away a single tear that squeaked out from her left eye. “I will. Give me some time, and we’ll get this sorted out.”

            Lyle’s footsteps echoed across the wood floor as he let himself out. Another tear slipped down her cheek. Then another. Starr held her breath, unable to control the emotions zipping through her system. She gritted her teeth, picked up her water bottle, and chucked it across the living room. It hit the brick fireplace with a loud thud and clanged to the ground, knocking a fire poker from its holder on the way down. She glanced around for something else to throw, not feeling nearly as satisfied as she should have at being a short walk away from the beach.

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