MERGER OF THE HEART
He’s about to acquire a whole lot more than a business…
When her grandfather dies, Jessica Adams inherits the family construction business. But there are strings attached. Big, deal-breaking strings. For one, Jessica’s grandfather was in the process of selling the company to a national firm. And two? The big wig who made the offer for Jessica’s business is none other than Daniel Spencer, her ex-lover and the father of her seven-year-old son. Only Daniel doesn’t know.
What started as a standard business acquisition has turned Daniel’s entire world―and his plans―inside out. But even as he offers her the deal of the lifetime, everything changes when he meets her son. Their son. Now Daniel is laying everything on the line to put together a much different kind of merger…if he can convince Jessica to take the biggest risk of her life.
Reviews for MERGER OF THE HEART:
“I’m just sad that it’s over. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this fantastic story about love, responsibility, guilt and second chances. Fabulous characters and a great story line. I love it when I get so lost in a story that I lose track of time. I will be keeping an eye on this fabulous author and her wonderful books.” –We Love Kink
“Sweet, sexy romance with humour and likeable characters.” –Read Your Writes
“Merger of the Heart is a hot, passionate, and touching contemporary romance. It is complete with desire, well-defined characters and an engaging storyline. I enjoyed this book and found Jessica and Daniel to be wonderfully perfect for each other. ” –LJT
“I can deal with this alone, Jess.”
Jessica Adams stared at her best bud, Ian Savage, even as she struggled to understand what he was saying. He was present as her attorney now, and not just the guy who’d literally held her up at her grandfather’s funeral. But she was done with being treated with kid gloves.
“I promise you don’t have to be there.” His gaze narrowed as he watched her closely. Probably worried she’d make some girl-move like faint or something.
She clasped the wadded-up tissue in one hand, crossed her muddy, work boot-clad feet at the ankles, and desperately fought to stay focused. When she’d walked into the conference room this afternoon, she was sure her heart couldn’t break any more. Until now.
“What are you saying?” She sucked in a deep breath and concentrated on the rumble of a loader as it travelled past the first-story window outside the Lawrence Construction office.
Thanks to Oregon’s summer weather, her crews would be busy. But it wouldn’t last long if she couldn’t get a handle on this latest crisis. Like she hadn’t had enough of those already.
Her gaze darted between Ian and her other best bud, Brad Fischer, both seated across the conference room table. “You’re telling me my grandfather was one signature away from selling the business?” She stared at Ian. “I just buried him last week.”
And now she was on the brink of losing her grandfather’s legacy? Her legacy? No. Way. In. Hell.
She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. It was all happening too fast, coming on too strong.
She hung her head, loosening the tension at the back of her neck, and gulped in a lungful of air. Yeah, times were tough, and her grandfather had mentioned the potential sale, but she’d talked him out of it. At least, that’s what she’d thought.
Especially after she’d taken on more responsibilities at the company and suggested ways to cut costs and streamline production. Selling out hadn’t been in the conversation after that.
Was she ever wrong.
She rubbed her temples and squeezed her eyes shut, focused on her breathing and not the pounding in her head.
“Hey, it’s okay.” Brad, technically a competitor but still a best bud, was beside her now. He squeezed the top of her shoulder. “It didn’t happen, all right? The sale didn’t go through.” He groaned. “Please don’t cry.”
“We’ll help you through this, Jess,” Ian added, rubbing her other shoulder. “Just…yeah. Do you want some water? Coffee? Your Peanut M&M’s? Brad, go grab some out of her office.”
Under normal circumstances, she would’ve laughed at the desperation in both their voices. They’d always treated her like one of the guys, but every now and then, they had to remind themselves she had different plumbing. Like now. This time, she found it more annoying than adorable.
She opened her eyes, straightened in her seat, and attempted to rein in the emotional clog in her throat. The way her grandfather would’ve expected. After all, he hadn’t let her down when she’d given him every reason to. Even though he was gone, she could still save his legacy. She wouldn’t sell if she could help it.
She waved them off with one hand. “I’m fine already. Knock it off.”
“Hey.” Brad’s voice was soothing as he patted a hand on hers. “We don’t have to do this if you’re not ready.”
She shook her head. “I need to deal with this now. There are projects coming up for bid that need my full attention.” Because without more work, she’d definitely lose Lawrence Construction.
She blew out a shaky breath and stared at the far wall, where a photo of her grandfather hung. Jonathon Lawrence casually leaned against an excavator with an ecstatic grin on his face at having finally purchased several pieces of construction equipment. Purchased, not leased. A huge sign of his success. It might’ve worked, too, if his gamble on a quick economic turnaround had panned out.
She’d told him relying on loans was a bad idea, no matter how cheap the equipment seemed. Better to stay small and self-reliant than expose the company to a takeover.
He should’ve listened to her.
Should’ve. Could’ve. Would’ve.
None of it was her fault, but it was definitely her problem now. And she’d deal with it by keeping Lawrence Construction.
She blew her nose and leveled a gaze at Ian. “How come I didn’t know about this before? I thought we were friends.”
“We are friends, Jess. You know as well as I do that attorney-client privilege didn’t extend to you while your grandfather was alive.”
“What a bunch of bull.” She pushed back from the conference table, stood, and turned to the window behind her.
Beyond the row of parked end dump trucks, the asphalt plant rumbled in the distance, churning out the material her crews would pave with later today. Under normal circumstances, the trucks would be out in the field, and the asphalt plant would’ve started before daylight instead of just an hour ago.
Reality was brutal. Economic conditions had plunged sales to a two-year low, with gross revenues almost even with operating expenses. She’d memorized the details, couldn’t help it. Not when there were two hundred employees who were a part of the company. Some of them longer than she’d been alive.
And definitely not when her son Jonathon’s future was on the line, too.
“How long was this deal in the works?” she asked, continuing to stare outside.
“He’d been in negotiations with Crenshaw Industries for a few weeks.” Ian used his authoritative voice, the one that made her feel as if she needed to be on her best behavior.
Like he wasn’t the one who’d instigated countless high school pranks that had landed her and Brad in detention along with him. No, the irony wasn’t lost on Jessica. Life was a string of ironies.
Well. Recession or not, it was now up to her to keep Lawrence Construction going. And that meant stepping up and doing the work. After a fortifying breath, she faced her friends. “I want to turn them down myself.”
“Why?” Brad trained his blue eyes on her like the pain- in-the-butt, big-brother-type he was. “Let Ian do his job. You’ve been through enough.”
“So? Life doesn’t hand out a ‘pass’ just because things have been tough.” She raised her chin. “When’s the meeting scheduled?”
“Next week.” Ian looked up from the paper in his hand. “Brad’s right. I can handle it.”
She forced her attention to the conference room table where she’d spent countless hours as a kid, drawing while her grandfather worked. The same table where she’d eavesdropped on company conversation and gained insight into the way the business functioned long before she went away to college.
She’d started early and worked damn hard to get this far. She wasn’t going to lose any of it now. “I want the pleasure of turning them down myself.” She lobbed the wad of tissue across the room so that it landed dead center in a garbage can by the door.
“That means I’m going with you.”
“I trust your new office is acceptable?”
The old man’s raspy voice blared out of the speaker phone as Daniel Spencer straightened in his seat. No matter how jet-lagged he was, any conversation with Crenshaw demanded his full attention. “Good morning, Albert.” He glanced at his surroundings, the dark furniture standard- issue for a Crenshaw Industries exec. “The office is fine.”
The exile to Glenwood Falls, Oregon, however, wasn’t. But it wouldn’t be for more than a year. And he could handle damn near anything for a year. Especially when the payoff was another notch on his resume.
“Now that you’re back from vacation, close the Lawrence Construction deal.”
Vacation? Daniel raised an eyebrow. A week in Brazil sounded like a vacation. Too bad he’d spent the entire time trying to talk a well-known specialist into leaving retirement and coming back to the States to take on his mother’s dementia case. He’d finally convinced the doctor after paying a small fortune.
Not that Crenshaw knew any of it.
Besides, his opinion of Daniel’s private life didn’t matter.
He shifted in his seat and reached for the files on his desk. “Lawrence Construction will be yours,” he said, his voice matter-of-fact. He’d studied the documents on the plane ride from Rio last night. “I’ve got a meeting set up with the company’s attorney later this morning.” Right after he checked on some personal business.
He thumbed through the file in his hand, pulled out the newspaper article. Too bad about Jonathon Lawrence. Daniel had enjoyed their lengthy conversation a few weeks ago, had admired the wisdom, the thought process that went into the older man’s decision to sell. His death made things a bit more complicated, but this deal would be easy enough to close. Along with troubleshooting and fixing companies, Daniel was a master at closing deals.
“We’ve got a lot of money riding on this,” Crenshaw said.
Like he needed the reminder. “Understood.”
“Lawrence Construction is sitting on a gold mine.”
Here we go.
A lighter clicked, and he listened as Crenshaw sucked in a deep drag of his cigar, then blew it out in a large whoosh. “Right on the McKenzie River.” The old man’s signature rasp floated through the phone. “Once we level the ‘corporate offices,’ we can get the zoning changed and develop the damn thing. Olsen should’ve thought about the damn zoning laws when he bought the damn property next to Lawrence Construction in the first place. If the idiot had, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Anyone who worked for him knew that Crenshaw didn’t reward failure. Didn’t matter if you’d married his daughter. And, yeah, a couple hundred acres of prime property was worthless if there was no way to develop it. Timothy Olsen had screwed up. Royally.
“I want that property, Spencer.”
No kidding. “Relax, Albert. I’m the best.”
“That’s why you’re there.”
Yeah, it was.
“Don’t forget what’s at stake, Spencer.”
Daniel stifled a snort. Who did the old man think he was kidding?
On top of the corporate shares Daniel received to move to the sticks, within a year, he expected to be back in Los Angeles, back at the corporate office.
Only this time, he’d have Albert’s job.
Daniel glanced at his Tag Heuer wrist watch. Twelve minutes until his appointment with the Lawrence Construction attorney. Twelve minutes until he could get the ball rolling on the latest venture to catch Albert Crenshaw’s attention. Twelve minutes until the
clock started ticking on his continued climb up the corporate ladder.
He loved when life came together as planned. Even the arrangements to move his mother to Glenwood Falls came together smoothly. But he’d learned long ago that money often unlocked doors for anyone.
Daniel pulled open the glass doors to The Tower building. Given Albert’s reputation as a miser, it was a surprise the old man agreed to purchase the place as the Crenshaw Industries lair. Then again, Albert always did everything for effect. And the centrally located Glenwood Falls historic landmark made a statement, all right. Crenshaw Industries had deep pockets and didn’t mind digging into them.
He shifted his briefcase from one hand to the other as he crossed the lobby toward the bank of elevators in the far corner. He shook his head and tried to clear the cobwebs that’d formed. Being jet-lagged sucked. Not closing a deal because he was jet-lagged sucked worse.
“There it is,” a woman muttered. She turned to him, not enough for her to actually look at him and let him catch her eye—step one if he wanted to see where a little playful flirting could take them—but enough for him to see her smile along with a sexy look of triumph in her eyes. “You’d think the elevators would be easier to find.”
She wasn’t very tall, even in her heels, but she filled out the gray suit she wore very nicely, leaving no mistake that she was all woman. He surreptitiously studied her in the reflection off the elevator doors. Her dark hair fell in soft waves around her face, a pair of brown eyes held a glint of mischief in them, and her smile made him grin. Something about her seemed familiar. Maybe because she was the epitome of the kind of woman he fantasized about. Everyone had a type, and she was his.
“Took me a while to find them when I first came in this morning, too.” He pointed to the row of numbers. “And I think it’s either on its last leg, or it’s the slowest elevator in this city.”
“Probably both.” She laughed, a soft feminine sound that flooded his male brain with a spurt of endorphins. It was the only explanation for the spark jumping through his system. Either that or he was on the edge of exhaustion. Whatever it was worked for him.
“Did you have trouble finding a parking spot?” she asked, tilting her head to one side, a move that caused the light in the lobby to catch her hair just right, and made him wonder what it would look like spread over a pillow. It was probably as silky smooth as it looked.
“I had to park two blocks away,” she added. “Which meant two blocks walking in these.” She angled one foot out and displayed the heel of one shoe.
High heels. And stockings. Maybe with a touch of lace at the thighs. Yeah, she’d definitely look great in something like that.
He mentally shook himself as he cleared his throat. “I took a cab. My car’s being delivered later this morning.”
Now she looked straight at him, and he looked straight back, his thousand-watt smile ready. But instead of smiling back, she frowned, then shot him a strange look.
“I just moved here,” he explained. “First time in Glenwood Falls.”
“Oh.” She nodded slowly and stared at him with an intensity that was both unnerving and thrilling. Must be the jet lag catching up with him.
“Maybe you could recommend some place for dinner. Since I’m new here,” he added as the elevator doors slid open. And maybe she’d offer to have dinner with him.
Hey, he was a guy. Doing what came naturally to guys, right?
She stepped in ahead of him, turned, and raised an eyebrow as if she’d read his mind, then gave him a once-over. “Le Printemps. On Fifth Street,” she said calmly. “You’re the type who’d like it there. Floor?”
Floor? He glanced at the bank of buttons and blinked. “Top one.”
She pressed it, but not another one. What business did she have on the top floor? He had a bad feeling about this. He wanted to ask her, but that odd look was back as she pulled an oversize bag off her shoulder and searched inside it.
Something had shifted, somehow, during the course of their conversation. Daniel wasn’t sure what he’d said, but the woman was definitely frostier than she’d started.
“Have you lived here long?” he asked as the elevator started its slow climb.
“All my life.” She scrounged around in her purse, then
found what she was looking for. “There you are,” she said, pulling out a small package of M&M’s.
She attempted to tear into it, and she was doing the muttering thing again. He wasn’t quite sure if he found it cute, but he was certainly leaning in that direction.
Finally, she got the package open, and then she pulled out a chocolate covered peanut and tossed it into her mouth. Her eyes closed as she sucked in a deep breath.
The movement propelled him back. Eight years back, to be exact. Assuming he’d correctly realized why she seemed so familiar.
He stared as she fished out another piece of candy. “I used to know a girl who packed those things around everywhere she went. Ate them whenever she was stressed.”
Like the way his gut now churned at the memory of the last time he’d laid eyes on the girl. And she’d been just that. A girl. Barely nineteen, if he remembered correctly. Then life got rough, so he’d ended it with her—and not in a gentle way, either. Guilt washed over him as it had several times through the years.
She continued to watch him. “Is that right?” she said slowly.
Daniel stepped back, gave his elevator companion a once-over. She crushed the empty bag between her fingers and balled the wad into her hand.
That clinched it. He said, “I know you—”
“Yes, you do,” she interrupted as the elevator doors slid open. “Good to see you again, Daniel.”
And without another word, she turned and marched toward the reception desk on the Crenshaw Industries floor.
Like what you’ve read? Here are the buy links:
SEDUCED BY THE SOLDIER
Zandra York just got her big break, photographing a major project for a travel magazine. So what if she’s never traveled out of the country before? Or that she’s more adept at deciphering fraudulent financial statements than reading German train schedules? Her brother Jackson is on his way to act as her guide, and she can’t wait to experience Europe with him.
But when Jackson’s overprotective best friend gets off the plane instead, Zandra knows this will not end well.
There isn’t a damned thing Special Forces instructor Blake Monroe wouldn’t do for his best friend, but babysit Zandra when Jackson is unexpectedly called away on a mission? Nope. Not on the list. Especially not when she proves to be more trouble than he can handle—and far too tempting.
Between accidentally hiring a hearse as their rideshare, an unprovoked goat attack, and photographing erotic-shaped chocolates, Blake and Zandra can’t keep their hands off each other. But Zandra’s new career is about to send her all over the world and Blake is finally ready to settle down after his next deployment.
He’ll never ask her to give up her dreams. And she’ll never ask him to give up his.
And here’s the first chapter, too!
(First chapter will be included after November 18, 2019 release day.)
THE BEST FRIEND INCIDENT
Stacey Winters is in love with love, but so far, she’s only found Mr. Dud, Mr. Cheater, and Mr. Boring. Even though her best friend Grant isn’t an option, at least being around him offers her a window into the male psyche—and sets the bar high for her future Mr. Right.
But then she accidentally crosses the friend zone and kisses him, and it starts to feel a little too much like he might be what she’s been looking for…
Grant Phillips doesn’t do relationships. A casualty of the foster care system, he knows people are just looking for a reason to bolt. “No attachments” is his hard and fast rule. There’s only one exception: his best friend, Stacey. He refuses to jeopardize what they have.
But now that he knows how good it felt to kiss her, felt the addictive slide of her body against his, Stacey Winters is indelibly stamped onto Grant’s brain—and not just as his friend.
He is so screwed.
Want to read more? Here’s the first chapter (after all the legal stuff!):
(Copyright © 2018 by Melia Alexander. 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.)
Stacey Winters stopped outside her apartment door, steeling herself with a breath of cool, central Oregon air. This was it. Her boyfriend was back in Milestone, and tonight, they were taking their five-week relationship to the next level. Leo had texted that he’d picked up the key she’d left at the music venue where he’d perform this week, and would be on the other side of her door, waiting.
Stacey shivered. With anticipation, of course. This guy was “the one,” she was sure of it.
It didn’t make her any less nervous, though.
Focus. She slid her key into the lock. Seriously. How come the first time with a guy was always so nerve-racking? Leo was rock-star hot—fitting, since music was, in fact, what he did for a living. Really, she needed to just relax and enjoy the ride.
She paused in the doorway. Wait. Was that an Ariana Grande ballad drifting down the hallway from her bedroom? She blinked, and fluttering butterflies took flight in her belly. He’d put on something she enjoyed instead of playing his own music on a constant loop? That was…unexpected. And very, very sweet.
Softly closing the door behind her, Stacey surveyed the dim room…and spotted a trail of rose petals leading down the carpeted hallway. She pressed a hand to her chest, like she could actually touch the melty giddiness coursing through her. That was exactly the kind of romance she loved, and here he was, serving it up on a rose petal–covered platter.
Further proof that she and Leo were meant to be together, right?
She grinned. The rest of her life was clicking into place—all that was missing was her lifelong, hopelessly romantic dream of being part of a head-over-heels-in-love couple. After a string of failures, it was about time she found her real match.
Anticipation gripped her heart as she followed the trail of fragile petals. Tomorrow she’d gather them and preserve them in a keepsake box. It’d be fun to have something to show her and Leo’s grandchildren. But right now, it was time for the best kind of adult fun.
Her bedroom was like the deep end of a cave, thanks to the blackout curtains she’d installed, but soft snores filled the space. From the sound of things, Leo was jet-lagged. Three weeks touring with his band in Asia was bound to catch up with him. At least he was here.
She bit her lip. Should she wake him up or let him sleep? He’d been just as eager to do this when they’d last spoken…
Seize the moment. The phrase might be clichéd, but Stacey had sworn by it since she was a child. In a world that only rewarded action, you had to create what you wanted. Case in point, she was in the middle of turning her passion project, Dinners for Two, into a thriving company.
Waking him up it is. If he wasn’t interested, she’d settle for a night of snuggling.
She pulled off her boots and socks, then moved on to her jeans. Leo would have plenty of opportunities to take her clothes off tomorrow. It was a shame he wouldn’t see her new coordinated panty and bra set, though. The lace brushed against her nipples when she pulled her sweater off to join the pile of clothing on the floor, and she shivered. She’d felt bold, brazen, and totally in control the second she’d slipped on the pieces earlier that afternoon, and she clung to that confidence as she stood in her pitch-black room, trying to decide the best way to tempt a sleeping man back into consciousness.
Hands out, she shuffled forward, groping for her bed. It wasn’t quite the same thing as strutting across the room in a thong and high heels, but that was okay. She’d rock his world once she got into bed. If she could find the dang thing.
Her hands found their target and she crawled in. But instead of warm male skin, she encountered denim. Stacey frowned. Leo was still fully dressed and lying on his side, facing the framed print of Chinaman Hat that hung on her wall.
That he was facing that particular print made the situation even more exciting. At her sister’s urging, Stacey had followed local folklore and burned an offering at that very mountain a couple of months ago, all in order to find her true love.
Shortly after that, she’d met Leo when he and his band played at the resort near Chinaman Hat at the exact time she’d set a Dinners for Two event. It seemed fitting to have found the love of her life on the same night she’d helped another couple with their own happily ever after.
How was that for fate?
She leaned toward him, breathed in deeply, and frowned. The allergy meds she’d taken earlier must be messing with her because he smelled…different. Familiar, but not what she expected. Maybe she’d forgotten what he smelled like. It had been a few weeks, and they hadn’t spent that much time together before he left.
Never mind that, though. Concentrating, she reached out a hand and trailed her fingers over his upper arm.
Leo didn’t move.
Hmm. She traced her fingers back toward his shoulder. Nice muscles. Better than she remembered. He’d been talking about hitting the gym when the tour ended, laughing that he’d need to bulk up if he were to keep up with her need for adventure, but clearly he’d gotten a head start. He must’ve wanted it to be a surprise, and she definitely wasn’t complaining.
She’d joked with her best friend, Grant, that she could only get serious about a guy who was fit enough to mountain bike around the trails at Chinaman Hat. There wasn’t a doubt now that he’d make it.
Slowly, deliberately, she rubbed her breasts against his bare arm, loving the friction so much her nipples tightened into hard peaks underneath the thin lace.
She brushed a kiss across his cheek, felt the stubble on her lips, and smiled. Stacey closed her eyes and, to the beat of Ariana Grande’s sexy, sensual song, slowly trailed a line of kisses toward his mouth. He turned, capturing her lips and parting for her.
She whimpered. His lips were full, soft, the sense of familiarity and homecoming so palpable her heart ached. So good…
The kiss started off gentle, sweet. His tongue swept into her mouth, teased hers until she moaned. Delicious tingles raced through her as the kiss deepened, intensifying until every nerve ending pulsed with an awareness Stacey had never experienced before.
She shifted, straddling him as he ran his hands over her hips, her waist… She’d known she’d wanted Leo, but until now she hadn’t realized how badly she wanted him. Anticipation pooled between her legs, his kisses searing her, touching a part of her soul. And that’s when she knew deep down that she’d truly, finally found “the one.”
It was about damned time.
Somethin’ ’bout you makes me feel like a dangerous woman…
Grant Phillips wasn’t a big believer in dreams or what they meant, but he did believe in living in the moment, and so far, Ariana Grande was un-fucking-believable. If he made her feel like a dangerous woman, that was fine by him. The passion in her words translated to the hot kisses she trailed across his cheek, to the way she captured his mouth, and definitely to the way she pressed her tits against him.
Somethin’ ’bout you makes me wanna do things that I shouldn’t…
And why not? They were both adults…
Grant turned, wrapped an arm around her small waist, and let his hand trail up one side as she straddled him.
Oh yeah, baby.
He lifted his hips and deepened the kiss until she moaned and ground herself against him. A moment later, her citrus scent registered. She smelled like freshly picked lemons. He liked lemons. A lot.
Wait. There was only one woman he knew who smelled like lemons…
He stilled his hands, forced his fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain into gear, and shifted just enough so he could reach for the bedside lamp. In the sudden circle of light, he blinked, felt the weight of the woman on him, and heard her gasp all at the same time as two things registered.
First, Ariana Grande wasn’t there. Second, he hadn’t seen his best friend so pissed off since the time he hid a harmless garter snake in her locker back in high school. Only now, it didn’t make much sense. What was she—
“Grant! What the hell?”
He stared at the startled expression on Stacey’s face, then glanced around the room. He was in her bed. She was straddling his lap, naked. Kinda naked, anyway. The barely-there black lace she wore didn’t technically count as clothing, did it?
Then the whole evening came rushing back at him in stunning clarity. That night’s awful first date…the need to hash through the gory details with his best friend while they watched Netflix… Only, when he’d arrived at her apartment, Stacey’s jerk boyfriend was already there.
By the time he’d gotten rid of the guy, Grant was too tired to pull out the laptop and load an action flick. He’d put some music on and crashed on her bed instead. Just like he’d done countless times.
“What the fucking hell are you doing here?” she demanded again.
Oh, shit. He really wasn’t dreaming.
“Stacey.” His voice was hoarse. From shock, no doubt. After all, how often did a guy see his best friend almost as naked as the day she came into this world?
She crossed her arms over her breasts and scrambled off him, but not before he got an eyeful of her gorgeously ripe nipples pushing against the black lace, or saw the mortification stamped on her face.
The hell of it was, his dick hadn’t gotten word that the woman he’d been playing a tongue duet with had turned out to be the one woman whose friendship he’d never risk losing. His hands, either, because they tried to grab her back. He fisted the sheets and hoped she didn’t cut them off.
The look she shot him was hard. Carbon steel hard, and he was pretty sure if they were back on their old grade-school playground, she’d deck him. Hell, he wasn’t convinced that right now, crouched on the floor and peeking up at him, she wouldn’t attempt something like that again. “Where’s Leo?”
Leo? Oh, right. Her latest in a long line of guys she’d sworn was “the one.” “I threw him out.”
“Why the hell did you do that?” The words were quietly spoken, but she was pissed. All that anger would erupt into a firestorm in about three…two…
“You had no right to throw him out!” Her voice inched up an octave, which, given how long they’d known each other, wasn’t much of a surprise. Indignation and rage rose out of her eyes like steam from the copper still at Mile High Desert Distillery where he worked.
Her eyes continued doing the fire and brimstone thing. “Just who the hell do you think you are, Grant Phillips? The King of Milestone? I want you out of my apartment. Now.”
He frowned. Did she really not know her boyfriend was a cheating bastard? Did he want to be the one to tell her the guy’d had his wedding ring on and was talking to another woman when Grant had let himself in?
He began to sit up. “Stace—”
“Don’t you dare move.” She glared at him, her brown eyes on the verge of becoming lethal weapons.
“Leave. Don’t move. Make up your mind, already.” He leaned back again and looked pointedly at her. “Why don’t you put a robe on or something?”
“Turn on your side.”
No problem there. He rolled away, only to catch her reflection in the glass covering the framed print of Chinaman Hat on the wall. He tried to pull his gaze away, but damn it, his brain seemed to have decided he liked what he was seeing.
She had curves. Gorgeous curves. On someone so petite she could’ve appeared plump, but she wasn’t. She was perfectly proportioned. Her long, brown hair, normally in a ponytail, flowed freely down her back. Tugging on it could be a lot of fun…
What the hell was he doing? He shouldn’t be thinking about things like that, and he shouldn’t be staring, either. After all, Stacey was like a sister to him. They’d grown up together, and she was the first friend he’d made when he’d been sent to live with his foster parents. His first set of foster parents.
She was his best friend, damn it.
He pulled his gaze away from the glass when she yanked her closet door open. “You’ve got some nerve, you know that?”
He swallowed, then took a stab at the conversation, hoping she hadn’t caught him staring like a prepubescent boy. “For what? Throwing Cleo out? I was doing you a favor.”
“Leo,” she said. “His name is Leo.”
“Leo the liar,” he muttered. If there was one thing Grant couldn’t stand, it was liars. Like the foster parents who’d sworn over and over there was nothing wrong with him, even as they turned him over to his next set of temporary parents.
Damn it. He hated to be the one to tell her. Really, it was disappointing. Hadn’t he taught her enough about his species to make an intelligent choice in the guy department? “What the hell were you thinking, giving a complete stranger a key to your place?”
“We’ve been dating for five weeks, moron.”
“Yeah, and he’s been gone for three of those five weeks.” He’d heard enough of her pining after the idiot to know that much. “Do the math. He’s practically a stranger. Plus, he had that stupid trail of rose petals to your bedroom.”
“It’s romantic. Not that you’d understand.”
Romantic? He rolled his eyes. “Guys only do stuff like that so they can get laid.”
“Maybe I wanted to get laid.”
He grimaced, but not for the right reasons. He did not like the idea of that asshat touching her. “Should we be having this conversation? You know, since I’m in your bed and all?”
“Very funny. You can turn around now.”
He turned over, then scooted to a sitting position on the bed, just like all the other times he’d been in it while they watched Netflix and ate popcorn. One thing was for sure, he’d probably never be able to watch another movie in bed with her without remembering the feel of her body on his.
“Look, Stace, if he really cared about you, he’d have made a trail to the kitchen where there’d be dinner. But instead, what’d he do? He had his dick ready and waiting in your bed.” Sort of, anyway. When Grant had walked in, the guy was pacing her living room, telling some “babe” that he was in Cleveland. He’d even had the nerve to hold his finger up in the universal signal for Grant to remain quiet. And that’s when he’d seen the wedding band. Bastard.
Shit. If he was gonna tell her, there wasn’t ever really a good time, was there? Might as well get it over with. “He’s married.”
“What?” Her eyes widened. “He is not married.” She slowly enunciated every word and crossed her arms, then her eyes narrowed into thin slits. “How could you say that?”
“Because it’s true.” He shoved a hand through his hair. “Look, do you think I’d tell you something like that if it wasn’t true? Think about it. The guy’s never in Milestone except for a few days here. Just enough time to play a couple of concerts, then he’s off to the next stop. Or so he says. What do you really know about him, Stace?”
She stuck her chin out, a mixture of defiance and flat-out adorableness.
He gave himself a mental shake. Adorable wasn’t how he should be referring to his best friend.
“If that’s true,” she said, “how come he’s never pressed me to sleep with him?”
“Do I really have to answer that?” Grant knew his species, knew that guys like Leo would prey on any female who seemed remotely willing. And if one said no it didn’t matter, because there was always one who would say yes.
He took a deep breath. “I saw his wedding ring.”
“Oh, God.” The whispered words tugged at his heart, made him clench his fists. He should’ve punched the asshole before throwing him out.
Her shoulders sagged and her face crumpled for a moment, just long enough for him to recognize the pain and disappointment. But there’d be no tears. As sensitive as Stacey was, he hadn’t seen her cry since they were in grade school. And back then it was because she’d given a boy a black eye for pulling on her braids.
She swallowed, lifted her chin, and her face morphed back into a woman in control. “I guess he wasn’t the guy I thought he was after all.”
“Hey, I’m sorry.”
“That’s it. I’m done with this conversation.” She stared at him, her eyes flashing as she crossed her arms. “Get out. Now.”
Not until he’d done damage control. He folded his hands behind his head and settled in. “Shouldn’t we talk about this? You know, they say couples should never go to bed angry.”
“I’ve seriously had it, Grant.”
“Fine.” So much for trying to lighten the mood. Under normal circumstances she’d have taken his lead and they’d be laughing by now. He blew out a breath and rolled off the bed, then reached for his sneakers. “For the record, you were the one kissing me.”
“Because I thought you were someone else.”
Okay, he’d asked for that. But why should he be surprised? Through all the years they’d known each other, not once had there been anything like that kiss between them. The thought had crossed his mind, but he didn’t do the kind of relationship Stacey was after.
Relationships weren’t permanent. Neither was love. Not for someone like him, anyway. Grant reached for the other shoe. Still, it was too bad. He kinda liked the kiss.
Wait. That was a stupid thought, one destined to have him severing his friendship with the only woman he’d allowed close enough to know him, warts and all. She was his best friend, for God’s sake. That’s where the relationship belonged. Firmly in the friend zone.
And that’s where they’d stay.
DRIVEN TO TEMPTATION
Aidan Ross might be an engineering genius, but people skills? Not this soldier’s forte. Thankfully, a trusted friend is accompanying him to a make-or-break tradeshow…but then a bubbly redhead hops into his truck, claiming to be his new road trip buddy. She’s a gorgeous distraction he can’t afford. Or ignore.
Delaney Harper comes from a family of engineers—male engineers. With several impressive projects under her belt, she’s on a mission to prove she can hang with the big boys, too. But cracking the sexy, closed-off CEO is tougher than she expects…and hotter than she could have imagined.
With the tempting woman disrupting his carefully planned schedule, Aidan can’t focus on the road, much less their upcoming presentation. The future of his company is riding on this trip, and if they’re to land a huge account, he has to keep his head—and his heart—in the game…
Want to read an excerpt? Read the first chapter!
Copyright © 2016 by Melia Alexander. 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.
He was the Mad Hatter trapped in a bad production of Alice in Wonderland. No doubt about it.
Aidan Ross drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead.
…One thousand eight… One thousand nine… One thousand ten…
He blew out a frustrated breath while the driver of the luxury vehicle ahead of him finally completed an excruciatingly slow turn onto a side street. Once they were out of the way, Aidan stepped on the gas pedal and maneuvered his truck through Milestone’s Tuesday morning traffic.
The residents of the central Oregon city didn’t compare with Portland’s crazy-ass drivers, but man, he wished they at least drove like they had somewhere important to go.
Didn’t help that he did.
After way more time than it should’ve taken, he pulled into a space in front of the Ross and Associates office.
Normally, Harold White, his second-in-command at the fledgling geospatial engineering firm, would have their materials piled on the sidewalk, ready to be loaded. Only this morning, there were no easels, charts, or laptop. No Harold, either.
Which was weird. The guy was always on time. Always.
Aidan shoved the truck into park. Better find out what was going on.
He cut the engine, stepped out of the 4×4, and slammed the door shut. Sucking in a deep breath, he crossed the front of his Chevy Silverado. Harold was always after him to come to the office, but Aidan knew that was the last place he should be.
He forced his feet across the sidewalk, then yanked open the glass door. Late-morning sunlight streamed through an open window at the far end of the small room, landing on the wooden reception desk and the man pacing in front of it.
And Brenda, the office manager-cum-receptionist-cum-accountant, was nowhere around.
Sweat trickled down his back, despite the cooler late-summer temperatures. He wasn’t good with clients, or with people in general. Harold, on the other hand, was a master.
Which was why Aidan preferred to work from home.
The man turned, nodded at him, then did a double take. “Aidan?” He smiled. “I haven’t seen you since we signed a couple of years ago. How are you?”
Well, shit. Now what? Harold was also after him to shake his standoffish manner with their clients, not that Aidan could really control how he was. But it wasn’t like he could walk out now.
His mind whirred as he forced a smile and stepped toward the older man’s outstretched hand. “How are you, sir?”
What the hell was the man’s name? Oh. Right. Brewster. Joe Brewster. He scanned his memory for some tidbit to do the small-talk stuff that Harold swore put people at ease. Something else Aidan needed to work on.
He owned Ross and Associates, for God’s sake. He had a distinguished military record. All good reasons he should be able to do the small-talk bit.
He shook the man’s hand, making sure to exert just the right amount of pressure. If he remembered correctly, Joe’s quarter-million-dollar renovation of a recently purchased Milestone mansion had hit the paper not that long ago. “How’s the remodel going?”
The man’s face darkened. “The remodel’s fine, but I hope Evelyn comes to her senses. ’Course, it’s too late for any sort of reconciliation, but I want to be able to tell her that myself.”
What the hell? Had Aidan missed something?
Joe clearly recognized the confused look on his face. “Evelyn. My wife. Ran off with a carpenter.”
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Why hadn’t Aidan heard this? And how the hell was he supposed to recover from opening this can of worms? He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Where was Brenda? He glanced at the partition that separated the reception area from the rest of the space and willed her to appear.
The older man didn’t seem to notice his discomfort. Or chose to ignore it. “She’s in for one huge surprise when the divorce is final,” he said, shaking his head in satisfaction. “Serves her right. No one embarrasses Joe Brewster.”
Because, of course, Joe Brewster’s many affairs didn’t count as embarrassing to Evelyn at all, did they?
Aidan refrained from pointing that out and cleared his throat instead. “Ummm… How about some coffee?”
But the man was on a roll. “If that woman had any brains, she’d realize I’ve raised her up from the depths of despair.”
First they were late getting out of Milestone, and now he’d managed to set off an important client. Where the hell were his employees?
“But what does she do?” Joe’s face scrunched into an ugly scowl. “Screws a goddamned carpenter, for God’s sake.”
At the sound of rapid-fire footsteps from behind the partition, Aidan blew out a deep breath. About time.
A redheaded woman walked around the corner, holding a couple of boxes and glancing at her watch. She looked up, her emerald-green eyes latching onto his. “Finally,” she said. “If you’re on time, you’re late. Didn’t you know that?”
He frowned at the verbal jab, bit back the retort on his tongue, and raised an eyebrow instead. He didn’t like being late. Ever.
This was so obviously not the mild-mannered Brenda.
Whoever the woman was, she clearly worked for him. “Please bring our guest some coffee,” he instructed Red.
There were some advantages to owning his company, weren’t there?
Delaney Harper stopped, trying her damnedest to keep her face neutral while the hairs on the back of her neck bristled.
Four years of engineering school, countless hours of engineering internships with some of the largest construction firms in the Pacific Northwest, two years with Ross and Associates. And after all that she was asked by the man himself to deliver coffee like some servant?
She swallowed down the retort on the tip of her tongue. And here she’d bothered to dress in a suit instead of the jeans and T-shirt she preferred. Even now she fought the need to fidget, to straighten the seam that somehow kept falling low on her shoulder and the skirt that seemed to slide up and down her hips when she walked. Maybe Mr. Please-Bring-Our-Guest-Coffee might have a safety pin she could use.
Remember the goal.
Run a major project for Ross and Associates. Convince her parents she had what it took to make it in a man’s world. All so she could run her own engineering firm and employ female engineers who might otherwise not be given a chance to prove themselves in the construction world. If any of it was going to happen, it was up to her.
Failure wasn’t an option. Which meant she had to show some of the grace her older brothers swore she lacked.
She sucked in a deep breath and made her feet move toward the stack of boxes and her roller bag by the front door. The last thing she needed to do was engage her mouth before her brain had a chance to process her words. A habit she had yet to break, if her brothers were to be believed.
Besides, if what she’d overheard was correct, Aidan Ross clearly needed her help to get him out of a sticky mess with one of the company’s largest clients. No wonder the man didn’t hang around the office.
She set the boxes down, readjusted her skirt as surreptitiously as possible, and, smile plastered on her face, turned. “Of course.” She nodded. “How would you like your coffee, Mr. Brewster?”
For his part, Joe seemed to have recovered from his tirade. “Oh, no need for that, young lady.” He smiled broadly. “I’m just waiting on some files for the Century Plains project.” He raised his chin in Aidan’s direction. “I know you’ll choose your best team for this project, right?”
Century Plains? The large computer chip manufacturing facility had been on hold for a couple of years through the recession. Rumor had it they’d finally be breaking ground.
Delaney straightened, tugged on her navy skirt, and not because she wished she were in jeans instead. One always dressed for success when meeting her boss for the first time. At least, that’s what her mother advised. Not that she took her advice very often.
This, however, was an opportunity dropped on her. Finally.
Brenda bustled into the room with the efficiency of a multitasking working mother. Or a damned good office manager. She pushed her telephone headpiece off her head with one hand. “Here are the files, Joe. Let’s head to the copier where you can look these over. Hello, Aidan,” she called over one shoulder as she preceded their client toward the back. “Good to see you.”
Brenda didn’t seem all that surprised to see the man. Although as far as Delaney could tell, he never showed up here. At least, not during normal working hours. There were plenty of nights she didn’t leave until pretty late, though, and she’d never seen him come in then, either.
Aidan stood with a slightly bewildered look on his face, almost like he was trying to take it all in. He shoved his hands into the front pocket of his fitted jeans. Not that she was really looking all that closely at them.
Delaney cleared her throat. “I’m just about ready,” she said, surveying the assorted pile. “Just a couple more boxes, and the easels and charts, then we’re good to go.”
And given the late nights she’d spent making sure her projects were successful, she’d be on the road to a future she knew she’d more than earned.