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As far as luck went, Manhattan-based reporter Isabel Peters had been enjoying more than her fair share of it lately. She'd managed to nab a cute little one-bedroom on the Upper East Side she could actually afford, she'd won a free membership to the local gym, which might actually enable her to keep off the fifteen pounds she'd recently lost, and because she'd been in the right place at the right time, she'd landed a juicy story about the New York mayoral race that was putting her name on the map at the network.
But as she raced through the doors of Sophoros's London offices, slapped her card down on the mahogany reception desk in front of the immaculately dressed receptionist and blurted out her request to see Leandros Constantinou, the look on the blonde's face suggested her lucky streak might finally have run out.
"I'm afraid you've missed him, Ms. Peters," the receptionist said in that perfectly accented English that never failed to make Izzie feel totally unworthy. "Mr. Constantinou is already on his way back to the States."
Damn. The adrenaline that had been rocketing through her ever since her boss had texted her as she was about to board her flight home from Italy this morning and sent her on a wild-goose chase across London came to a screeching, sputtering halt, piling up inside her like a three-car collision. She'd done everything she could to make it here before Sophoros's billionaire CEO left. But midday traffic hadn't been on her side. Neither had her poky cab driver, who hadn't seemed to recognize the urgency of her mission.
She struggled to control the frustration that was no doubt writing its way across her face, reminding herself that this woman could still be useful. "Thank you," she murmured, wrapping her fingers around the card and sliding it back into her purse. "Would you happen to know which office he's headed for?"
"You would have to ask his PA that," the blonde said with a pointed look. "She's in the New York headquarters. Would you like her number?"
"Thanks, I have it." Izzie chewed on her bottom lip. "How long ago did he leave?"
"Hours," the other woman drawled. "So sorry it was a wasted trip."
Something about the gleam in the gatekeeper's eyes made Izzie give her a second look. Was the elusive Leandros Constantinou holed up in his office avoiding her? She wouldn't put it past him from what her boss had said about his magic disappearing acts when it came to the press, but she didn't have time to flush him out. Her flight back to New York left in exactly three and a half hours, and she intended to be on it.
She gave the other woman a nod, zipped up her purse and turned away from the desk. James, her boss, wasn't going to be happy about this. From what he'd said in his texts, the scandal rocking Constantinou's gaming software company was about to go public. And if NYC-TV didn't get to him before it did and persuade him to do the interview, every media outlet in the country was going to be knocking on his door. At that point, their chances of landing the feature would be slim to none.
She swung her purse over her shoulder with a heavy sigh and made her way out the heavy glass doors to the bank of elevators. A glance at the bored, restless expressions of those in the packed reception area told her she'd walked right into the middle of the midday caffeine and nicotine exodus. Which wasn't to say she herself didn't have bad habits. Hers were just more of the "shoving food she didn't need in her mouth" variety. Or obsessing over a story when she should be at the gym sweating off a few extra pounds. But what was a girl to do when her mother was a famous Hollywood diva and her sister sashayed down runways for a living? Perfection was never going to be all that attainable.
The ping of an elevator arriving pulled her gaze to the row of silver-coated death traps. A group of people crammed themselves inside like a pack of sardines, and she should have gone with them, really, given her hurry. But her heart, which hadn't quite recovered from the trip up, started pounding like a jackhammer. Just looking at the claustrophobic eight-by-eight-foot box made her mouth go dry and her legs turn to mush.
She glanced at the fire exit door, wondering how bad, exactly, walking down fifty flights of stairs would be. Bad, she decided. Three-inch heels did not lend themselves to such activity and besides, she had to catch that flight. Better to slay her demons and get on with it. Except, she reasoned, taking a step back as the thick steel doors slammed shut on the dozen people inside, having a whole contingent bear witness to her incapacitating fear of elevators wasn't going to happen.
Telling herself she was a rational, levelheaded woman with what many would call a heck of a lot of responsibility on her shoulders every day, she looked desperately around the lobby at the crowd that was left in search of a diversion. She could do this. She wasn't a total head case.
She took in the drop-dead perfect figure of the woman to her right, covered in a body-hugging dress that screamed haute couture. Stunning. Were these women everywhere? And weren't those designer heels? So not fair. The only pair of designer shoes she owned were a ruby-red marked-down find she'd fallen in love with, then spent a quarter of a month's salary on. Which had seen her eating cereal for dinner for weeks.
She kept her gaze moving. Over a man who looked as if he indulged in one too many pastries at tea every day to the distinctly not middle-aged specimen leaning against the wall beside him typing on his smartphone. Her jaw dropped. How could she have missed him? He was distraction with a capital D. And even that didn't begin to describe the six-foot-something-inches of pure testosterone in the designer suit. He was distraction in all caps. And then some
Wow. She took in every magnificent inch of him. She'd never seen a guy wear a suit that well. Not even the full-of-themselves peacocks who liked to show off in the financial district bars of Manhattan. Because the way the tailored dark gray creation molded this man's tall, lean frame to perfection? Should be illegal. Particularly the way it hugged his muscular, to-die-for thighs like a glove.
Damn but he was hot. Like "her body temperature ratcheted up about ten degrees" hot. She dragged her gaze northward to check out his swarthy, sexy Mediterranean profile. And froze. Somewhere along the way he'd looked up from his phone at her. Lord. That dimple, indentation, or whatever you called it in the middle of his chinit was just so. yum.
She held her breath as he embarked on a perusal that bore little resemblance to her guilty ogling. Nothis was a fully adult, ultra-confident assessment of her assets by a man who'd surely had his pick of those he'd bestowed it upon in the past. She twitched, pushing her feet into the floor, wanting to squirm like a six-year-old. But her training as a reporter had taught her that was the last thing she should do when cornered. By the time his gaze moved back to her face, unleashing a full blast of heady dark blue on her, she was sure her cheeks weren't the only thing that were beet-red.
A long moment passedwhich surely had to be the most excruciating of her life. Then he broke the contact with a deliberate downward tilt of his chin, his attention moving back to his phone.
Her cheeks flamed hotter. Honestly, Izzie, what were you expecting? That he would ogle you back? This has been happening your entire life. With men who weren't that far out of your league.
A Latin tune filled the air. Grew louder. Adonis lifted his head; frowned. Her phone. Dammit. She fumbled in her bag and pulled it out.
"So.?" Her boss barked. "What happened?"
"He was already gone, James, sorry. Traffic was bad."
Her boss let out a short, emphatic expletive. "I'd heard he was uncatchable but I thought that was only for the female population."
Izzie had no idea what Leandros Constantinou looked likeor anything about him for that matter. She'd never heard of the gaming company he ran, nor its wildly popular racing title, Behemoth, before this morning when she'd gotten James's text on the way home from her girls' trip to Tuscany and he'd ordered her to make this pit stop. His text had said Constantinou's former head of software development, Frank Messer, who'd been pushed out of the company years ago, had walked into NYC-TV today claiming he was the brains behind Behemoth. Determined to get his due, he'd launched a court case against the company.
And offered an exclusive interview to her boss to tell his side of the story.
She pursed her lips. "I asked the receptionist which office he was headed for, but she wouldn't tell me."
"My source says it's New York." Her boss sighed. "No worries, Iz, we'll get him here. He can't avoid us forever."
We? She frowned. "Are you going to let me work on this?"
There was silence on the other end of the line. "So I wasn't going to tell you until you got back, given that you get yourself all worked up about stuff like this, but since the timing's changed I better let you know now. Catherine Willouby is retiring. The network execs have been impressed with your work of late and they want you to try out to replace her."
Her breath caught in her lungs, her stomach doing a loop-to-loop. She took an unsteady step backward. Catherine Willouby, NYC-TV's much-loved matriarch and weekend anchor, was retiring? And they wanted her, a lowly community reporter with a handful of years of experience to audition to replace her?
"But I'm two decades younger than her," she sputtered. "Don't they want someone with more experience?" And wasn't she an idiot for even mentioning that fact?
"We're getting killed with the younger demographic," James said flatly. "They think you can bring in some of that age group, plus you already have a great relationship with the community."
Her head spun. She wiped a clammy palm against her skirt. She should be over the moon that they thought that highly of her. But her stomach was too busy tying itself up in knots. "So what does this have to do with the Con-stantinou story?"
"The execs think your weak spot is a lack of hard news experience something your competition has tons of. So I'm going to hand you this story and you're going to knock it out of the park."
Oh. She swallowed hard. Pressed her phone tighter against her ear and rocked back on her heels. The Constantinou story was going to make headlines across the country. Was she ready for this?
"You still there?" James demanded.
"Yes," she responded, her voice coming out a high-pitched squeak. She closed her eyes. "Yes," she repeated firmly.
"Stop freaking out," he admonished. "It's an interviewthat's all. You might not get any further than that."
An interview in the biggest media market in the world, likely in front of a panel of stiff-suited network execs who would analyze her down to her panty hose brand
The knot in her stomach grew bigger. "When?"
"Ten a.m. tomorrow, here at the station."
Tomorrow? She shot a glance at an arriving elevator.
"I gotta go, Iz. I've emailed you some prep questions. Rehearse them inside out and you'll be fine. Ten a.m. Don't be late."
The line went dead. She stood there dumbfounded. What had just happened?
The tall, dark-haired hunk picked up his bag and moved toward the empty elevator. A quick scan of the lobby told her they were the only two left. She tossed her phone in her purse and made herself follow. Except five feet from the doors, her feet glued to the spot and refused to move. She stood there staring at the empty metal cube, her pulse rate skyrocketing. The hunk pushed his hand courteously against the door as it started to close, impatience playing around the edges of his mouth. "You coming?"
She nodded, momentarily distracted by the New York accent mixed with the sexy faint flavoring of something foreign. Greek, maybe?
Move, she told herself, managing a couple of tentative steps toward the terrifying little box. But the closer she got, the harder it was to drag oxygen into her constricted lungs. She came to a skittering halt a foot away.
His gaze narrowed on her face. "You okay?"
She inclined her head. "Slight fear of elevators."
His brow furrowed. "Millions of people travel in them every day they're unbelievably safe."
"It's the unbelievable part I worry about," she muttered, staying where she was.
He rolled his eyes. "How do you get to work every day?"
"I take the stairs."
His mouth tightened. "Look, I have to get to the airport. You can take this one or the next your choice."
She swallowed. "Me too have to get to the airport, I mean."
He gave her a steady look, visibly controlling his impatience. "Get on, then."
A vision of her and her sister curled up in a dark elevator yelling for help flashed through her head. Like it always did when she had to make herself do this. She remembered the utter silence of the heavy metal box as they'd sat there shivering against the wall for hours, their knees drawn up to their chins, terrified it was going to drop. Her absolute conviction that nobody was ever going to find them and they were going to spend the night in the cold, silent darkness.
He let out an oath. "I have to go."
She stared at him blankly as he jabbed his finger against the button, his words bouncing off the terror freezing her brain. The heavy metal doors started to close.
She could not miss that flight.
Dragging in a deep breath, she dived forward, shoving her bag between the closing doors, then throwing her body through after it. Adonis cursed, jamming his hand into the opening. "What the hell?" he ground out as she landed against the back of the elevator, palms pressed to the metal to steady herself. "What kind of a stupid maneuver was that?"
She jumped as the doors slammed shut. "I have a job interview tomorrow I can't miss my flight."
"So you thought that getting there in multiple pieces was a better idea?" He shook his head and looked at her as though she was a crazy person.
"Slight fear of elevators remember?" She wrapped her fingers around the smooth metal bar that surrounded the elevator and held on for dear life.
He lifted a brow. "Slight fear?"
She nodded, leaning back against the bar in as casual a pose as she could manage with her shaking knees threatening to topple her. "Don't mind me. I'm good."
He didn't look convinced, but transferred his attention to the television screen running a ticker recap of the day's news. A couple of minutes tops, she told herself. Then she'd be back on solid ground and on her way to the airport.
The elevator moved smoothly downward, whizzing through the floors. She started to think she was a little crazy. This wasn't so bad She took a couple of deep, steadying breaths and relaxed her fingers around the bar. She could do this, she repeated like a mantra in her head, glancing up at the numbers as they lit up. Just thirty-four more floors.