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She shouldn't be bending over like that.
As he gazed at the woman wearing the short blue pinstripe skirt ahead of him, Chase McDaniel's throat constricted and his silk tie suddenly felt tight. She leaned over farther, continuing to study the back end of her car.
He had a perfect view of well-shaped legs that led upward toward
The bead of sweat that formed on Chase's forehead had nothing to do with the late May heat wave. It might be ninety-two degrees, but the vision in front of him was what was getting him all hot and bothered in the company parking lot this Friday morning.
She straightened, and he noticed how her crisp white shirt clung to her breasts, outlining the white cami she wore beneath. She'd shed the suit coat, and her sunglasses were perched atop her head to keep her short black hair back.
She was hot. Both literally and physically. He'd never seen a woman quite like her, Chase decided. She had a commanding yet sexy presence. His libido heightened, and he worked to control his physical reaction.
Her car was in a visitor space, and as he approached he could see what vexed hera flat tire.
It was 10:00 a.m., and the official start of the Memorial Day weekend was hours away. Here in Chenille, Iowa, the day promised to be a scorcher. But the unseasonably warm weather was ideal for heating lake water and making the weekend perfect for outdoor activities.
Chase's grandfather was already at the family summer home in Minnesota, and that's where Chase was heading next, once he stopped and did his good deed for the day. "Hi," he said, pausing a few feet from her.
She turned, and he inhaled. She had the greenest eyes he'd ever seen.
"Hi,"she replied. Her frustration with the situation was obvious.
"Looks like you have a flat."
"You think?" She rubbed her forehead, and dirt from the tire streaked her skin. His fingers itched to wipe the smudge off, but he kept his hands to himself. He'd liked her on sight, and being up close hadn't done anything to change his mind.
"Do you know of a repair shop I can call?" she asked, focusing on the matter at hand.
"Do you have a spare?" Chase countered.
She wrinkled her nose. "I hope so. I've never had to use it. Never even looked to see if it's there."
He moved to her trunk and noticed her Illinois license plates. Chenille was an hour northwest of Dubuque, which sat on the Iowa-Illinois-Wisconsin border. "Where are you from?"
"Chicago," she replied, watching as he lifted the trunk lid. "What are you doing?"
"Changing your tire." Chase gave her the grin that his sister Chandy declared irresistible. "You're in Iowa. We do things like that, especially out here in Chenille."
"I'd never even heard of this town until a few weeks ago," she admitted. "Couldn't have found it on a map before then either."
He laughed. "Not many people can unless you're looking for us. We're a company town owing our livelihoods to McDaniel Manufacturing. I assume since you're here you've heard of the products."
"Oh, I dug around a little. McDaniel Manufacturing makes cheeses, ice cream and other assorted dairy items. The popular product lines give Kraft a solid run for their money."
He tossed her trunk mat on the ground, wondering about the purpose of her visit. She'd driven a long way. Maybe she was in sales. A lot of vendors and suppliers did come calling. "So you did your research."
"Any smart woman would."
"And you're a smart woman?" He refrained from adding that if she was, she'd have checked her trunk for a tire. Luckily, she had one, and it was inflated.
"I like to think so."
Chase chuckled, unscrewing the bolt that held her tire jack and spare in place. "So where'd you go to school?"
"Good old Evanston," he said, placing the bolt in his pants pocket. He didn't want to lose that.
She took his words the wrong way. "Do you have a problem with Northwestern?"
"Nope. Not if you don't care that I went to the University of Iowa," he replied. He removed the car's jack and handed it to her. His fingers brushed hers for a second as she took it from him.
After placing the spare on the ground, he shed his suit coat and rolled up his sleeves. He'd never been afraid of dirt or hard work, and he could shower when he reached Lone Pine Lake.
He'd be about a half hour late, but his grandfather would understand. Leroy was all about chivalry, especially on the parking lot of the company he owned and loved.
Chase loosened the lug nuts and he placed the jack under the frame of the car. He inserted the handle and began to turn it, raising the car up slowly until the tire was free of the ground.
Then he removed the lug nuts and the bad tire, ignoring that his hands had turned black from the brake dust and the road grime. He slid the spare on, reversed the process, and soon had her car ready to go.
"No problem." He put the flat in the trunk and set everything on top. "If I were you, I'd take this down to Bay's Tire and have them look at it. Bay's is right there on the main drag. You can't miss it. Looks like an old gas station without the pumps. Tell them Chase sent you."
"Okay." She crossed her arms over her chest and studied him.
"So, where are you heading after this? Going inside?" he asked.
She shook her head, her short locks swishing. "No. I'm finished. I'm actually starting work here Tuesday. I filled out my tax forms today."
"Oh." He frowned. Come Tuesday she'd be an employee. Chase had been well schooled in sexual harassment law. McDaniel Manufacturing prided itself on its employee satisfaction, stellar work environment and safety record.
Still, she wasn't quite on the job yet, and something about her intrigued him. Curious to learn more, he said, "I was wondering if you'd like to reward me for my valor by letting me take you to an early lunch."
Instead of saying yes, she arched a dark eyebrow and her pixie mouth formed a slight pucker. "That's sweet, and I really appreciate your offer, but you've already helped me out enough. I should have joined an auto club or something. As it is, I've got to get going. The moving van is on its way, if it's not already waiting at my apartment."
"They're always late," he replied, delaying her inevitable departure. Of course, he really had no clue about moving companies. He'd only moved once, from his grandfather's estate to his own place, ten years ago.
However, she was already edging away, to the driver's side of the car. He stood there feeling like a fool. "It was nice meeting you," he said.
"Thank you again," she replied.
"You're welcome." Chase remained frozen in place until she drove off. Then he retrieved the suit coat he'd set on the ground. His dry cleaners would kill him, but the bill would be well worth it.
Chenille had never seen anything like her.
If it had, Chase would have found her long ago. Goodness knows he'd gone through enough women looking for the right one. Sex was never an issue. The problem was finding someone who could keep his mind and heart interested, as well. Someone he could love forever. Call him a closet romantic, but he believed in true love and wouldn't settle until he found it.
He held up his dirty hands and grimaced. Even though he'd brought his suitcase with him, it might be best if he went home to shower before leaving for Minnesota. He should be able to do so and still be in plenty of time. His grandfather had specifically asked him to arrive earlier than the rest of his siblings. Every Memorial Day weekend the entire family gathered at the house on Lone Pine Lake, starting Friday night, to kick off the summer and celebrate Leroy's birthday.
His grandfather would be eighty tomorrow, and Chase was certain Leroy was finally ready to announce his retirement. He'd been hinting for a while about passing the torch. Chase had been groomed his whole life to become CEO of the family business, a role and legacy that had passed to him when his parents died in a single-engine-plane crash.
Once he'd had dreams of leaving Chenille and making his way in some big city, but he'd long ago left those fantasies to his siblings.
His sister Cecilia had made her home in New York as a professional ballerina. Now thirty and at the end of her dancing career, she'd started teaching ballet, gotten married and had a child on the way. Chase's younger brother, Chris, was also married, and worked in Davenport as a minister. The youngest of the McDaniel clan, twenty-seven-year old Chandy, was doing her pediatric residency in Saint Louis.
Chase drove the short distance to his home, an atrium ranch sitting on five acres. He'd hoped to share it with a wife and kids, but he refused to get married until he knew he'd found his soul mate. Everyone in his family had happy marriages, and Chase wanted the same.
For a second, he thought of the woman he'd met. McDaniel currently had several management openings, two in human resources. Maybe she'd filled one of those.
He washed his hands and resisted the urge to call the office, especially since it was a holiday weekend and he'd told his secretary to take the rest of the day off. Tuesday morning would arrive soon enough. Surely he could find out who the mystery woman was then.
Miranda Craig found Bay Tire easily, and within a few minutes was sitting inside the store, watching while a cat yawned his assessment and sauntered off.
Her tire couldn't be plugged, so she nodded in approval of the new one they wanted to install.
This wasn't one of those chain establishments, but rather a mom-and-pop operation. "So Chase sent you?" the wife asked, flipping through a magazine while her husband changed the tire. Both seemed to be in their early fifties.
"He did," Miranda replied.
"His whole family buys their tires here. Have for years. You his girlfriend?" Mrs. Bay set her magazine down for a minute.
Miranda shook her head. "No. I'm a new employee."
The woman gave her a once-over, and Miranda squirmed. "Probably for the best. He does seem to go through women like water."
"Uh-huh." Miranda was grateful when Mrs. Bay began reading an article. It was easy to understand why women would be attracted to Chase. Miranda had felt that initial quiver of interest herself, before she'd realized exactly who the tall blond guy approaching her was. Chase McDaniel wasn't quite the boy next door.
He was a lot hotter and a lot sexier than he looked in the photos she'd seen on the Internet. His pictures had done him justice, but came nowhere close to capturing the man in the flesh.
His hair was sandy-blond, like something you might find on a California surfer. His ocean-blue eyes had sparkled, and his mouth To be kissed by those full sensuous lips could only be heavenly.
His dress shirt hadn't hidden the fact that he was fit and toned, and the thought of touching his six-pack abs sent chills down her spine.
He hadn't bothered to conceal his interest. His attentions had flattered her, as had his willingness to get his hands dirty. He wasn't such a pretty boy that he was afraid of grease and grime. She'd found him highly attractive and extremely tempting.
She'd wanted to say yes to his offer of lunch, but no was the safer choice, and Miranda always erred on the side of safety. At thirty-three, she'd given up everything in Chicago and had to make a success of her new life in Chenille.
Flirting with Chase McDaniel, thirty-five-year-old heir to the McDaniel Manufacturing throne, would only complicate matters.
She couldn't let his cheeky grin sway her from her destiny. She'd made that mistake before. She'd fallen fast and hard for Manuel, a dark-haired smooth talker. Eventually she'd figured out his seduction wasn't about her, but about what he could get from her company. She'd discovered that he was using her to win a big contract between her firm and his. The knowledge he'd lied to her and hadn't truly cared for her at all had wounded her deeply.
"You're all done," Mr. Bay said, reentering the shop. He wiped his hands, reminding Miranda of Chase. "You're good to go."
Miranda dispelled the image of Chase's smile. No need for her knees to wobble. She had a long weekend ahead of her, and unfortunately, she'd be seeing him again soon. Tomorrow, in fact.
The reality was he was a means to her dream job, and she wasn't going to let her physical attraction to the man stand in the way of finally getting what she wanteda chance to shatter the glass ceiling. She'd come too far to fail now, no matter how much he'd piqued her interest.
Cursing under her breath at how unfair life was, Miranda went to pay her bill.
The McDaniel Lodge on Lone Pine Lake had been in the family since the mid-1950s, when Leroy had purchased the property on a rare whim.
As Chase climbed the back stairs, he realized that someday, this too would be his. He paused, his hand resting on the cedar railing while he took a minute to gaze past the house to the shoreline.
Chase had been spending summers at Lone Pine Lake ever since he'd been born, and whatever stress he was feeling always disappeared the minute he stepped out of his car.
He could understand why his grandfather loved the lodge and why he spent most of the workweek here from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The lodge was like fine wine; it developed more character as it aged. The house sprawled at the top of a grassy knoll and offered a panoramic view of the four hundred feet of shoreline at the front of the property.
The entire estate consisted of ten acres, and besides the lodge, two small guest cottages sat a short distance away. The lodge itself had five bedrooms and slept fourteen. The cottages each slept four.
Chase inhaled, letting his lungs and senses fill up with the earthen smells of crisp air and fresh pine. An eagle soared across the water, talons out as it descended to catch a fish. Lone Pine Lake, with its fourteen miles of shoreline, remained an untouched gem. The houses surrounding the McDaniel estate also sat on acreage, and there were no condos or high-rises anywhere on the lake.
He'd always felt at home here, even more so than at his grandfather's massive residence in Chenille, where Chase and his siblings had grown up.
"You going to stand there all day?"