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Men like Alan Barrett were trouble with a capital T. With his Stetson and his I-can-beat-down-any-obstacle-in-my-path smile, he obviously thought he could get his own way no matter what. He was wrong.
Although Lisa Sanders had been her boss's gatekeeper for only a month, she was already good at it. No one charmed or intimidated her. Not even a six-foot-two Texan who claimed to be a friend of Brian's. He was not listed on her boss's schedule and that's all that mattered.
She stared into his to-die-for blue eyes, ignored the runaway beat of her pulse and repeated, "Mr. Summers is in a meeting and can't be disturbed. His schedule is tight today. I might be able to fit you in around one-fifteen."
Alan Barrett's smile faded. "Look, Miss" His gaze dropped to the nameplate on her desk. "Miss Sanders. Besides the fact that we do business together, Brian and I are friends. I spoke to him less than an hour ago. He said he'd meet with me at ten. It's now ten."
Lisa wasn't simply fresh out of college with a degree in business, she had a history of street smarts behind her, one that made her square her shoulders and act even more protective of Brian. He wasn't only her boss. He and his wife, Carrie, were her benefactors. If it weren't for them, she didn't know where she'd be now. Maybe still in a homeless shelter, her baby put up for adoption to people she didn't know. Brian and Carrie had given her a home and a new life, and she would be forever grateful to them. As soon as she earned her real estate license, she'd be more than Brian's office manager, and she'd never ever let him down. She wanted him to know he could depend on her just as she'd depended on him.
Motioning to the group of pale gray, leather-covered club chairs in the waiting area where the receptionist was locatedAlan Barrett had bypassed the admin and come straight to herLisa said firmly but politely, "If you take a seat, I'll check with Mr. Summers when his meeting is over."
The Texan's gaze became steely as he assessed everything from Lisa's chin-length bob and navy suit to her color of lipstick. A slight shiver trembled through her when she realized she was attracted to his raw sex appeal, the jut of his rugged jaw, his broad, muscular shoulders. Even with his hat shadowing his face, the lines there told her he had to be near forty. He was way too old for her and definitely out of her league. She didn't react to men this way. She had no time for men. She was on a career path. Besides all that, she doubted she could find a man who could accept the fact that she'd given away her child.
"Since I haven't seen you here before, Miss Sanders, I'll take into consideration the fact that you're probably new and trying to do a good job. But if you don't buzz Brian and let him know I'm here, you might lose it."
She'd suspected this man might try to turn to intimidation tactics. His type always did. She didn't do well with patronizing authority figures. The other employees who worked for Brian were under the illusion that she was a relative of her boss's and he'd given her this job to help her get a good start. Only his and Carrie's closest friends knew the whole storythat they'd taken her in in her eighth month of pregnancy, when she was eighteen, had adopted her baby and treated her like a daughter ever since, including paying for her college tuition. If Mr. Barrett didn't "know" about her, then how close a friend of Brian's could he be?
"Believe me, Mr. Barrett, I'm not going to lose my job. If you don't want to have a seat, then I guess you'll have to leave."
If Alan Barrett was surprised she hadn't backed down, he hid it well. Glancing at his watch again, he said in an I'm-not-happy-about-this-but-I'll-deal-with-it voice, "I needed to see Brian immediately because I have an important call to make in half an hour. Do you have a conference room I can use so I can make it now?"
She'd rarely known men like Alan Barrett to be flexible. She supposed Brian wouldn't mind if he used one of the offices. She'd just have to keep an eye on him. Pushing back the contract she'd been studying, she stood.
"Follow me," she said crisply, then led him to a hall to the right of her desk. The hairs at the nape of her neck prickled as he followed her. She hoped her suit jacket wasn't wrinkled yet. She hoped the back seam of her skirt was straight. She hoped
She hoped nothing where this man was concerned. When his business with Brian was finished, he'd be gone.
At the first conference room they reached, she opened the door and let it swing inward. Not intending to enter, she started to move out of the way. But she wasn't quite quick enough. As she turned to sidestep, there was Alan Barrett practically nose to nose with her. Or more like nose to chest.
When she looked up, her breath caught in her throat. She inhaled his cologne, which was woodsy and male, and she felt so small and fragile standing near him it was as if he could swallow her up. The fabric of his Western-cut suit coat brushed her own jacket. There was a flicker in his eyes, a tightening of his lips. Did that mean he was affected, too?
What was happening that she was having fantasies at work? Maybe she should take Carrie's advice and go out on a few dates, even if she didn't intend to get serious with anyone.
Regrouping, she quickly stepped away from him. "Take as long as you like. When Brian finishes with his meeting, I'll tell him you're here."
Then, feeling as if she were running from the devil himself, she hurried back to the safety of her desk and the work that was going to be her future.
Alan didn't like to be kept waiting.
He never sat on the sidelinesnot at the family ranch in Texas, not when he was working in real estate wherever it took him. For the past year, he'd been dividing his time between Texas and Portland, Oregon, doing more deals with Brian here and in other areas of the West Coast.
Unable to help himself, he looked out at the blond-haired young woman who had barred him from Brian's door. Damn, he was used to getting his own way, and he wasn't accustomed to his pulse racing as it had when he'd looked into her green eyes and heart-shaped face. With a low oath, he told himself Lisa Sanders was probably not much older than his daughter.
Turning away from her with some reluctanceand wondering if she was as efficient as she lookedhe went over to the window and peered down the five stories. Taking his phone from his belt, he dialed his daughter's school. This call to Christina's guidance counselor was important. She'd been accepted at Stanford and USC, though she was seriously considering the University of Illinois because of the animal sciences program. His ex-wife didn't like that idea at all. She wanted Christina to pursue psychology or premed, a more highbrow science. But his daughter had her own mind. She was the light of his life and, to his consternation, could usually get him to side with her. Sherri would also be having this discussion about colleges with Christina's guidance counselor either today or tomorrow.
Alan brought up the guidance counselor's name and pressed Send. Hopefully, she'd be free and they could have their discussion a little bit early.
Half an hour later, finished with his conversation, he exited the conference room. About to approach Lisa Sanders and demand again she tell Brian he was here, he stopped to watch her a moment as she opened mail. Her bob was chic and blunt-cut, swinging forward when she tilted her head. Her suit fit her slim body as if it was custom-made. Her white blouse had a demure scoop-neck, and he saw she was wearing a locket. A present from a boyfriend? Probably.
Alarm bells went off and he told himself not to even wonder about it. He'd never had a penchant for younger women, so why start now?
But there had been a maturity in Lisa Sanders's eyes when she looked at him that had almost startled him.
Now she quickly slit open an envelope, took out the sheet of paper and went absolutely white.
What kind of mail could cause that reaction?
As he approached her, he saw her hands were shaking. "What's wrong?" he asked, standing in front of her desk.
She was still staring at the sheet of paper in her hand.
"Miss Sanders, are you all right?"
The sound of her name must have caught her attention, and she glanced up. When their gazes met, he felt that full-body impact again. He looked deeper and thought he saw fear. What was this young woman afraid of?
Putting on her official office manager's face again, she blinked, took a deep breath, then replied, "I'm fine."
"Your hands are trembling."
She looked down at them, then at the letter. Folding it, she quickly tucked it into her suit jacket. "I'm just a little cold, I guess, with the damp weather outside and all ."
When he was in Portland it seemed as if it was always damp. But he could sense a lie when he heard it, and she was lying through her teeth. She wasn't cold. She was upset about that letter in her pocket.
It was none of his business.
Since his encounter with Brian's gatekeeper earlier, he hadn't pegged her for a shrinking violet. The letter she'd received in the mail must have upset her greatly.
Suddenly men's voices burst from behind the closed door. Seconds later, Brian and two men Alan assumed were clients were standing near Lisa's desk. Brian greeted Alan and introduced him to the men, who soon excused themselves and left Summers Development. All the while, Alan kept one eye on Lisa, who was still pale and fidgeting with messages that had probably come in while Brian was in his meeting.
After the clients left, Brian turned to Alan. "It's good to see you again. I missed you this past month. How are things in Texas?"
"My brother's a good manager. I don't have to worry when I'm away from the ranch."
Now Brian turned to Lisa to include her in the conversation. "I guess you've met Mr.
Lisa gave her boss what Alan suspected was a forced smile. "Yes, I have. I didn't want to interrupt you when he arrived," she admitted honestly.
"Alan and I've been doing a lot of work together. You can always interrupt me when he shows up." Brian took the messages she handed to him, flipped through them, then stuffed them into his pocket. "I'll take care of these later. I want to get our meeting started. Lisa, I'd like you to sit in."
Her green eyes went wide with surprise.
"Sure," Brian said easily. "The only way you're going to get experience is to be involved in what I do. When you earn your real estate license, you'll really be ready to go. You might want to take some notes for us, too."
Ever since Alan had stood within three feet of Lisa, he could smell her perfume. It was a haunting fragrance, somewhere between flowers and musk. Now he got another good whiff as she leaned toward her desk, grabbing a notepad and pen.
Stepping aside, he motioned for her to precede him into Brian's office. Their gazes held for just a second too long and he felt that jolt of adrenaline again that had been missing from his life for many years.
As Alan waited for Lisa to be seated in one of the chairs in front of Brian's desk, Brian explained, "Lisa graduated in December with a degree in business."
"Margery left?" Fifty-five years old now, Margery had been Brian's office manager for as long as Alan had been working with him.
"Margery's husband retired and she's traveling with him. Lisa's only taking over the job temporarily until she has her license."
Alan wondered why Brian had chosen Lisa out of all the people he could have hired for the position. Why would he be waiting for her to earn her license to join his team? Why wouldn't he hire someone with experience?
As he checked out Brian's interaction with Lisa, he didn't see any evidence that his colleague was enamored with the young woman, or that Lisa was attracted to Brian. Still, one never knew what went on behind closed doors. Brian had once alluded to a rocky time in his marriage, but Alan had never seen evidence of that, and with adopting Timothy, he and Carrie seemed to have absolutely everything they wanted.
Studying Lisa, Alan thought she still looked unsettled. She was staring down at her pad, pen in hand, ready to take notes. But he sensed she was distracted.
He was sure of it when Brian began talking about the project they were working on. She was writing, but not much, and she didn't look up.
"I got the paperwork you faxed me yesterday," Brian said to Alan. "All of the properties look as if they'll be suitable. Do you have a meeting set up with the investors?"
"Next Thursday. I thought we could fly down on Wednesday. Does that fit your schedule?"
"That should work out fine. Lisa, I'm going to want you to fly along on this trip and be an assistant to both me and Alan."
When his office manager didn't look up, Brian said a little more loudly, "Lisa?"
Her head came up then and she flushed, putting color back into her cheeks. "I'm sorry. What did you say?"
Brian's brows quirked up. "I said I want you to fly to Texas with me and Alan and act as our assistant on this venture. I hope we can put together a deal for the golf resort. Fortunately, it's practically in Alan's backyard and we're going to be staying at his family's ranch."
"You're sure you want me to come along?" She glanced at Alan, as if being in close proximity to him wasn't a good idea.
He didn't know whether to be insulted or flattered.
"No better way to get your feet wet," Brian assured her.
"I'm still furnishing my apartment and"
"As long as you have a bed to sleep in and a chair to sit on, that can wait, can't it?" her boss asked.
Again Lisa glanced at Alan. "Of course it can. I guess I'm just anxious to settle into my own place."
"You know Carrie and I will help you do that any way we can, including shoving around furniture."
As the discussion turned back to business, Lisa took copious notes, as if she'd put her distraction behind her. This young woman intrigued Alan, and he'd known her less than a morning.
After the discussion about the proposed golf resort wound down, he checked his watch. "I'd better be going. I have another meeting in half an hour and then I'll see you again at four to discuss the Sacramento resort with Joe Dulchek."
When Brian stood with a nod, Alan and Lisa rose, too, and found themselves standing very close together. He was a good six inches taller than she was. She was so slim and fragile-looking, yet the set of her shoulders and the fire in her eyes told him she'd fight for whatever she wanted. The term spitfire came to mind. Her perfume tempted him again, and he found himself studying her face.