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Conner Macafee was used to reporters snooping around his family. His great-uncle had been a confidant of John F. Kennedy, and Conner's own family were considered American royalty in politics and business. Of course, they had more than their share of scandals as well, which had always kept the press interested in them.
But Nichole Reynolds, the society reporter for the national newspaper America Today, was going about it in an entirely new way. She'd crashed his family's Fourth of July party in Bridgehampton and was doing her best to fit in, but so far she'd done little but stick out. She'd tried to blend by faking an ennui with the dignitaries and A-list celebs who were in attendance. But Conner couldn't help but notice her gushing more than once to the model and polo star Palmer Cassini.
Conner had gone to school with Palmer and knew him to be a fun-loving partier. He was an intense athlete, but also a hell of a fun guy, and Conner counted Palmer as one of his closest friends. But Palmer didn't hold his interest the way the redheaded reporter did.
He knew why Nichole was here. He'd turned down numerous interview requests from her and her bosses. He understood that she was a friend of Willow Stead, the producer of Sexy & Single, the reality television show that featured his company, Matchmakers, Inc. With the TV show under way, Nichole intended to write a series of articles on the matchmaking service his grandmother had founded. But he didn't trust reporters and never talked to them. That's why he had a marketing manager, Zak Levy, who was handling all the promotion and press releases. Conner had been very careful to keep out of the spotlight.
"Who is she, Conner?" his mother, Ruthann Macafee, asked, coming up next to him.
"Who, Mother?" he asked, pulling his gaze away from Nichole. He assured himself that keeping an eye on the reporter was the only thing that interested him. Not her lush red hair, which flowed in waves past her shoulders, or the stunning white sheath dress she wore. But he knew that he was lying to himself. He wanted her and if he'd had any idea how potent the attraction would be, he would have granted her an interview at his office weeks ago.
"The woman you keep staring at? I don't recognize her so I suspect she doesn't run in our circles," she said. His mother was sixty-five but looked at least fifteen years younger, thanks to her active lifestyle. She played in a tennis league and ran a charity. She'd never been the type of woman to sit at home, and Conner admired her for it. Even when a plane crash had taken his father's life and revealed a scandal that would have broken many women, she'd carried on in that quiet strong way of hers.
"Nichole Reynoldsreporter," Conner said.
"Oh, dear. I wonder why she's here." He heard a hint of fear in his mother's voice. She didn't like reporters, and with good reason. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders in a quick hug.
"That reality TV show I'm doing she wants to interview me."
"Truly? Are you going to do it? It's so gauche to talk about your private life." Conner bit back a smile at his mother's attitude. To say she was old school was a major understatement.
"I'm well aware of that," he said, leaning down to kiss his mother on the forehead. "I think I'd better get rid of her before she makes any problems for us."
"Good idea. Do you want me to ask Darren to escort her out? How did she even get in here?"
"The head of security doesn't need to be bothered with this," Conner said. He'd been handling women like Nich-ole since he'd turned fourteen. "She probably came as a plus one."
"Next year I'm going to make sure that the invitations are better vetted," his mother said. "I don't want her kind getting in here."
"Whose kind?" his sister, Jane, asked, joining them.
Jane was a posh and trendy woman who had her own cooking and lifestyle show on TV. She didn't shy away from the media the way Conner and his mother did, but then Jane had been sheltered from most of the fallout from their father's infidelity.
"Scourge of the earth," Jane said, winking at him. "Where is she? I'll go take care of her."
His sister was a troublemaker, and Conner knew the only way to deal with her and their mother was to end this conversation. "I'm handling it."
"Which one is she?" Janey asked. "The redhead," his mom said.
"Oh, I see why you want to 'handle' her. Go for it, big bro," Jane said.
"Mom, I think you should have disciplined Janey a lot more when we were younger. She's a complete brat."
"She's perfect," their mom said as Jane stuck her tongue out at Conner.
He shook his head and walked away from both women. He worked his way through the well-heeled party crowd, picking up a firecracker mojitoJaney's creationfrom a uniformed waiter on his way to Nichole and Palmer.
She glanced up as he approached, and Conner saw the guilty look in her eyes a moment before she masked it with a brazen smile.
"Conner Macafee," she said, with a little too much enthusiasm. "Just the man I've been wanting to see."
"Nichole Reynolds," he said, matching her energy. "Just the woman I don't remember inviting."
"With women there is always some sort of intrigue," Palmer said.
"Indeed," Conner agreed. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
"I always do," Palmer said.
Nichole looped her arm through Conner's and led him away from Palmer. "If I waited for an invitation from you, I'd never have the chance to talk to you in person."
"That's because I don't do interviews." Conner's father had been very involved in politics. Even after he'd left office, he'd been in a high-profile business that had demanded lots of press and reporters having access to his life. As a teenager Conner had been photographed and interviewed by every society magazine. He'd hated living in a fishbowl and had vowed never to allow it to happen again once he was an adult. Something he'd been very successful at, even though he lived a jet-set life and had a reputation as something of a player, he didn't give interviews and was seldom, if ever, caught by the paparazzi.
"I think you're reacting negatively to someone in the past," she said, dropping her arm from his once they were far from the crowd. "I promise it will be painless."
"Maybe I like pain," he said, primarily to bait her but also because there were times when pain was the only reminder he had that he was alive.
She narrowed her gaze as she stared at him; he knew she was trying to guess if he was telling the truth. "So how about answering a few questions?"
"I'll do anything to get this interview, Conner."
The hint of determination in her tone intrigued him. It had been a long time since anyone had been so dogged to get something from him.
"Yes," she said. "I'm known as the girl-who-gets-her-story and you're making me look bad at work."
"We can't have that now, can we?" he asked, stepping closer into her personal space and letting his hands fall lightly on her shoulders. She was tall for a womanprobably five-eightbut she only came to his chest and he liked the feeling of power he had looking down at her.
"You do know I don't give interviews," he said.
"But this is different. You're doing a television show."
"Not me, my company. There's a very big difference," he said.
"Your dad didn't see it that way. He practically lived on the pages of the Post.'''
And that was precisely why Conner wouldn't. "I'm not my dad. And the answer is still no."
"Please," she said, tipping her head back and pouting up at him.
Her luscious red lips made him want to groan out loud. He felt a zing of lust shoot straight through him.
"I might do it, but the price will be high," he said, knowing he'd never sit for an interview with her. But he wanted her and didn't see why he couldn't indulge the fantasy a bit.
"Name it," she said.
He lifted a strand of her hair and wrapped it around his forefinger. She held her breath as a blush spread over her neck and cheeks. Her creamy skin with the light dusting of freckles was smooth under the fingers of his other hand.
He wanted her.
But he knew he'd never have her. He couldn't be with a woman he couldn't trust, and at the end of the day her loyalties would always be with her newspaper. But he wasn't about to let her go without stealing at least a kiss from her. He suspected the shock of what he was going to say would drive her away and maybe even cost him that kiss he wanted so badly. But that was his intention. Self-preservation won out over lust well, sort of.
"Be my mistress for a month and I'll answer all your questions," he said.
Nichole stared up into the bluest eyes she'd ever seen and tried to make sense of what he'd just said. She'd never imagined she'd be so turned on by someone so well, conservative. She would have to call him that. To be honest, he was so far out of her league, she knew he must be toying with her.
She was used to doing whatever it took to get a story but this was risque and daring and she wanted to say yes. But ethics made her back down. She suspected he'd said that to push her away and that made her mad.
"A month?" she asked. "What kind of secrets are you hiding, Mr. Macafee? I had only planned on asking you about Matchmakers, Inc. But for that kind of price, I'd have to have full access to every part of you."
She knew he wouldn't negotiate with her. Why would he? She'd read the papers back when his father died. She knew the scandalous stories of the second family that Old Jed Macafee had kept hidden and she remembered seeing the photos of Conner and his sister, Jane, as they'd been caught leaving the country on a private Learjet owned by a Greek billionaire. There had been something so sad about the once-press-friendly teenagers suddenly donning dark glasses and refusing to look at the cameras.
Conner was never going to let her interview him. She'd known it was a long shot from the beginning, but she'd gone after it anyway. Her dad always said you had to break a lot of eggs to make an omelet.
"No, you wouldn't," he said. "If you agree to this, I will specify the parameters and if you break one of the rules outlined for you, then you leave and never bother me again."
She shook her head. "If I agree, then we will hammer out an arrangement that works for both of us. Why would you even suggest this?"
"Because I know you are going to say no," he said with the confidence of a man who knew he held all the cards. "Though I would really like to kiss you."
She knew the offer of an interview had been too good to be true. She'd never be able to be someone's mistress. Her mother would have a cow for one thing. She raised all her daughters to be strong and independent. But that didn't mean that Nichole didn't long to feel Conner's arms around her.
"One kiss, one question?" she suggested.
He arched an eyebrow at her. "And that would be enough for you?"
"Is one kiss really going to be enough for you?" she countered. She had never felt instant lust for a man before. Well a man in real life. There was no denying that the first time she'd seen Daniel Craig as James Bond she'd been in instant lust. But this was real. Conner was touching her and she didn't want him to stop touching her.
"No," he admitted.
"Good. Then we keep the kiss-question ratio?"
He shook his head. "One kiss is all I want. More than that and you'd have to agree to being my mistress."
His mistress. That sounded oddly exciting to her as she'd always secretly wanted to be Gigi and have Louis Jourdan take a look at her and decide he wanted her. But could she do it?
"I want to do a series of interviews about dating and the way that our society is dominated by online dating sites and services like Matchmakers, Inc. I hadn't planned on asking you anything personal, Conner," she said.
"You wouldn't have asked me if I ever used those services?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Okay, I would probably have asked you some personal questions, too. I'm a good reporter."
She was dying to know if his father's secret family was the reason why he was still single. And she knew that if she got this story from him, she could name her own price and sell it to the highest bidder. But the price was high. Could she still look at herself in the morning if she agreed to this kind of arrangement?
Newspapers paid for interviews all the time, but paying with her body well, it didn't feel right to her. Could she string Conner along? Make him think she'd sleep with him and sort of give him enough kisses to get what she needed without going through with it?
Ugh! She had no idea. Especially since the spark of lust that had ignited from the first moment she'd seen him was now growing inside her.
Conner was asking her for something she'd never given any other mancontrol over her body. But he was offering her something he'd never given any other womanentree into his very private and secluded life.
"I thought so. What will it be, Nichole? Do you want to come with me and be my mistress or should I signal one of the security staff and have you escorted from the property?"
She tipped her head to the side, weighing the matter carefully. Of course she should say no. There was no other answer that made any sense. But being sensible wasn't at the forefront of her mind just now.
She was intrigued. Turning away, she led him to a bench surrounded by high hedges so they had some privacy.
His hands were on her shoulders, the waves of his body heat engulfed her and the scent of his one-of-a-kind aftershave enticed her. She wanted, at the very least, one kiss.
"I can't decide until I've had one kiss," she said. She'd always been a gambler who wasn't afraid to take a chance and maybe get the big payoff. A kiss shouldn't be that big a deal. But there was something in Conner Macafee's eyes that made her believe it was.
"So I know exactly what I'm bargaining for. Sexual chemistry doesn't always add up."