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Her body quivered, shook, bucked. Every muscle ached as she held on for the ride of her life. Nothing else mattered but holding out for the finish.
"Roll your hips."
As if she had any other choice. Hips rolling, thighs burning, she nearly collapsed as she came to the end.
Thank God. The mechanical bull finally stopped.
The crowd roared and whistled.
"That, ladies and gentlemen, is a lady who can ride!" The DJ's voice boomed through the crowd. "She stayed on for eleven seconds. Someone get this girl a beer."
On shaky legs, Abby Morrison stomped over the red padded vinyl and hopped down onto the scarred, peanut-covered wood floor. Never in all her twenty-eight years had she ever done something so…silly, so fun.
She thought walking over the foam matting had been difficult, but now that she was on solid, stable ground, she was still having problems.
Hmm, maybe drinking two, no three, no—who knows how many margaritas and the two shots of mystery liquid the bartender had chosen was the problem. Oh well, after the day she'd had, she deserved a little fun. She needed to detach from reality, no matter how brief or how much she'd regret her decision in the morning.
Abby accepted the high fives as she wound her way through the thick crowd. She was just getting back to the bar, and the stool she'd warmed before taking a daring risk and mounting the bull, when a large, familiar hand clamped down on her shoulder.
Did he have to ruin everything today?
Her gaze trailed from the tan hand to the rolled cuff of a crisp, white shirt and on up to a set of coal-like, angry eyes. Eyes that were much more affectionate in her dreams and fantasies.
"Cade." She smiled sweetly and looked him in the eyes—all four of them. "What are you doing here?"
He motioned for the bartender to hand over her keys and purse.
And that was what irked her about Cade Stone. The man didn't even have to speak for people to jump at his command.
In the year that she'd known him, he'd maintained an aura of power combined with a sexy, lethal body all wrapped up in Italian suits. All he had to do was walk into a room and women swooned…and she was no exception. Damn it.
"I'm not going anywhere," she declared, though if the invite was back to his house, she'd seriously reconsider. "But, if you want to stay, you can join me for a drink."
"I think you've drunk enough for both of us tonight."
With a forceful grip on her arm, he spun her toward the exit and out into the unusually cool spring evening.
"How did you find me?" Abby demanded as she stumbled behind the Neanderthal who was currently dragging her to his black Lincoln Navigator.
He opened the passenger door, tossed in her things, gripped her waist and hoisted her up and into the heated seat. "This was the first piece of property I sold when I got into real estate with Dad. The owner and I have remained friends."
Figures. Who didn't know the almighty and powerful Cade Stone? Not only that, Abby had yet to meet someone who didn't jump through hoops to make Cade, and his brother, Brady, happy.
She tried to ignore the tingling on her body where he'd touched her hand, her waist. The shivering sensations were alcohol-induced—they had to be. She refused to believe her feelings for Cade were anything other than superficial.
How could she trust her instincts when she was, oh what was the word she was looking for? Oh, yes. Trashed.
"But why would he call you?" she asked, slapping his hand away as he attempted to fasten her seat belt.
Those charcoal eyes that haunted every fantasy, sleeping or awake, came up to meet hers. "He figured I didn't want my assistant soused in public. He was right."
The door slammed before she could think of a response or a defense. She settled into the warmth of the leather seat and shut her eyes as Cade got in and roared the engine to life.
Abby tried to push aside the thoughts that led up to this evening's entertainment. But her mother's mounting medical and funeral bills and Cade's most recent job offer were too much of an overload for her mind. She could think of little else.
Forget the fact she'd already decided to quit her demanding job just before Cade dropped his life-altering announcement. Her life, and his. How could she leave now? How could she stay, though?
"Do you have a reason for behaving like a free-spirited party animal?" he asked.
Silence stretched as he wound through the streets of San Francisco. She knew he waited for a response, but she honestly didn't feel he deserved one.
"And?" he prompted.
She opened her eyes and spared him a glance. "My actions, and the reasons behind them, are really none of your concern."
Abby couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face when Cade's hands tightened on the steering wheel. Serves him right after dropping that little bombshell this afternoon at the office.
He was engaged.
He'd practically driven a knife into her heart when he made the announcement. But that wasn't enough. No. Cade twisted the knife when he asked her to coordinate the wedding and work directly with Mona, the lucky budding bride-to-be.
She'd just gotten up the nerve to tell him she was leaving. There was no way she could continue to work for a man she was secretly falling for.
But now he'd offered her a staggering amount of money to coordinate his "business nuptials." God, she didn't know the lucky fiancée, but nothing about this upcoming wedding sounded romantic. How could she plan a lavish, beautiful wedding when one— possibly both—of the parties involved considered it just another business deal?
Great. Just great. Simply because she'd worked as a wedding coordinator for a prestigious company for several years before coming to work for Stone Enterprises, Cade now thought she was qualified to plan his.
"This is out of character for you, Abby."
Did he really know her well enough to say that? Sure, she worked for him, but he knew nothing about her on a personal level. Because if he did truly know her heart, he never would have put her in this position.
She kept her eyes closed, unable to look at the shadowed expression on his face in the darkened car. Though the fact he had major bedhead—a minor imperfection—made him seem somewhat more approachable. Never, in the whole year she'd worked for him, had she ever seen him look anything less than perfect.
And she certainly did not want to consider that Cade had been in bed when he'd received a call about her. Was this Mona woman waiting for Cade back at his house? Was she keeping the sheets warm?
No, that was definitely not a path she wanted to travel down. Unfortunately, though, all of her senses were now plagued with Cade. The man not only occupied a large space in her mind, but his masculine scent filled the car, as well. Too bad the sexy aroma encompassing her wasn't his strong arms.
Abby groaned aloud.
"You okay?" he asked. Concern laced with irritation filled his tone. "Do I need to pull over?"
She chuckled at the fact he thought she was getting ready to toss her cookies right in the front seat of his sleek, immaculate vehicle that screamed CEO.
Was he more concerned with the cleaning bill or her physical state?
Stifling another groan, she turned her attention out the darkened window. "Just take me home."
Wallowing in self-pity and misery would be much better in her small, empty studio apartment across town. Quite a contrast from where Cade lived in his overpriced penthouse where his fiancée, more than likely, was waiting for him in bed.
Who ordered up a marching band?
Willing the percussion section to cease, Abby rolled over. Her cheek slid against smooth, soft… satin?
She jerked up, only to grab her head to prevent it from falling off. She was in bed, but not hers, she noted with only one eye open. Definitely not hers. She didn't have a black king-sized mission-style bed with charcoal gray silk sheets and matching duvet.
And then she remembered where she was.
Cade's place. Great. Just great.
With a hand on either side of her head, she risked opening both eyes to see if he was standing close by with that signature smirk on his face. Thankfully she was alone. And fully dressed.
Obviously nothing had happened, unless Cade had redressed her right down to her sandals.
She listened for a minute, but didn't hear him moving about in any of the other rooms, either. Hopefully he'd gone out and would be a gentleman about this whole ordeal and let her sneak out without a word. When she went back to work on Monday, they wouldn't mention Friday night's events.
Yeah, right. And then he'd confess his undying love to her. Sure.
Struggling to get out of bed, adjust her rumpled clothing and stay upright, Abby reprimanded herself for even thinking such romantic thoughts. Cade was—and always had been—out of her league and off-limits.
Especially now since his engagement announcement.
Searching frantically for her purse and keys, Abby slowly stepped out into the hallway. She still hadn't heard Cade—thank you, God.
In the sunken living room, which was twice the size of her whole apartment, she saw her handbag resting on the wrought iron table in front of the brown leather sofa.
Leaning against her purse, however, was a note. The queasiness in her belly increased as she crossed the gleaming hardwood floors and snatched the paper.
Stay here. We need to talk. Cade
With note in hand and dread in her stomach, Abby sank to the oversize couch. The buttery soft leather groaned beneath her, mimicking her own emotions.
Was he planning on scolding her again? True, he may be her boss, but he most certainly was not her keeper. Anger began to override nerves as she realized Cade had no right to drag her away from Bulls 'N Beers last night. For once in her life she'd been doing something without thinking it through— and she'd been having a blast.
This morning, though, was not so fun. The hangover, the fact that she was to assist Cade's fiancée in planning the wedding of the year and the fact she couldn't turn the job down because she was still paying off her mother's medical bills all made for a day-downing combo.
She swallowed the lump of tears that threatened to overtake her already miserable morning. Her mother wouldn't have wanted her to dwell on her death, nor would her mother have wanted her to take a job that she'd hate. But, being buried in debt was not an option, either. Once the wedding was over and done, Abby would move on, no matter what Cade said.
On a sigh, Abby sank back against the cushions, welcoming the comfort they provided. Too bad the comfort she so desperately needed, craved, came in the form of a couch costing thousands instead of a six-foot-two-inch CEO billionaire with charcoal eyes, a slight dimple in his chin and shoulders that filled out his tailor-made Italian suits.
Yeah. Too bad.
Cade had wagered multi-billion-dollar deals. He'd gone skydiving with a daredevil associate just for the hell and the thrill of it. He'd even ventured to ask a woman he was not in love with to marry him—all for the sake of launching his business into other countries.
He'd loved every minute of those moments. But right now, standing outside his penthouse door, Cade could only stare at the dark wood finish and the gold plated P. All because he was scared to death to face the curvy, petite blonde.
The image of Abby riding that damn mechanical bull had kept him up all night. He wished he'd never gone down to that bar to haul her pretty little self home.
No, that's not true. Even though the erotic image of her hips gyrating back and forth, her hair clinging to her damp face, had embedded itself so deep in his mind he'd never forget, he wouldn't change a thing. He'd never known her to be so spontaneous, carefree and…sexy. At least, he assumed her trip to the popular bar in San Francisco had been a last minute decision—the bartender had told him Abby had come alone. This was one of those times he was thankful that people knew who he was and who worked for him.
He had to get that damn image out of his head. She was his assistant for pity's sake. She aided him with everything from conducting business transactions to traveling with him to reviewing potential properties he wanted to purchase. Never once had he associated her with sex. But now, with last night's events embedded in his head, that's all he could think of.
With a bakery bag under his arm, Cade finally let himself into his apartment and forced himself to act like a man and not a teenager with prom-night hormones.
Abby's pale, golden hair was the first thing he saw. The second was her bare, shapely legs propped up on his coffee table.
She turned to meet his gaze and jumped to her feet.
Angry with himself for allowing her to get to him at the most inopportune time, he let the door slam. She jumped once again, her eyes squeezing shut at the boom.
Good. A hangover. Just what he needed to deal with.
"Recovered from your night? " he asked, stepping down into the living area.
She sat back down on the sofa, but only on the edge. "I'm fine. Why am I here?"
Ignoring her question, he tossed the bag onto the table. "Here's your favorite artery-clogging breakfast. Eat up, so I can yell at you again."
Her perfectly arched brow lifted. "If my cherry cheese Danish with an extra side of cream cheese comes with stipulations, I don't want it."
Remaining on his feet, Cade rested his hands on his hips. "Do you really want to have this out on an empty stomach with a raging headache? Your choice."
She eyed him for about ten seconds, then dove into the bag.