Heated Rivalryby Patricia Sargeant, Judy Duarte, Mary Arter
She Wants What He's Got. . .
Valerie Parker is desperate to win the affection of her emotionally distant father and land a promotion at his advertising firm. Her biggest obstacle is junior partner Steven Crennell, a dazzling former NBA star who scores all the big accounts. But Valerie's attempt to outshine her charismatic rival unexpectedly leads her/b>… See more details below
She Wants What He's Got. . .
Valerie Parker is desperate to win the affection of her emotionally distant father and land a promotion at his advertising firm. Her biggest obstacle is junior partner Steven Crennell, a dazzling former NBA star who scores all the big accounts. But Valerie's attempt to outshine her charismatic rival unexpectedly leads her straight into his arms. . .
And She's Everything He Needs. . .
Steven hopes to dispel the playboy stereotype left in the wake of his NBA career. Between battling his ex-fiancée and focusing on his work, finding his soul mate isn't on the agenda. . .until he meets his match in Valerie. And when competition leads to explosive passion, he learns that the game of life--and love--involve a very different set of rules. . .
"A stellar read!" --Coffee Time Romance on You Belong To Me
"Sensational and engrossing." --Romantic Times on On Fire
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By Patricia Sargeant
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Patricia Sargeant-Matthews
All right reserved.
Chapter One"How did you find me?" Valerie Parker stood in the threshold of her Coral Gables, Florida, condominium staring at Steven Crennell. She blinked, but her rival didn't disappear.
"As junior partner of your family's ad agency, I have access to personnel files." Steven's baritone made Valerie think of warm, rich liqueur and John Legend songs.
Beneath her dismay, Valerie's pulse skipped once. Maybe twice. A flock of hummingbirds nesting in her stomach took flight. "I'll have to talk with my father about restricting access."
Why did she always react this way to him? Sure, the chiseled lines of his sienna features-high forehead, aquiline nose, square chin-were impossibly attractive. His tailored gunmetal gray suit and ice blue shirt looked casual and elegant on his long, lean muscles. But she wasn't so shallow as to be attracted to a man she disliked.
Steven shifted on her front steps, lifting his right leg to the step above. "You can do that in the morning. For now, may I come in?"
Her right hand already was on her doorknob. She raised her left to the doorjamb. Valerie didn't want him in her home. She didn't want him at her family's agency, either. "We said everything we needed to say at the office when you and myfather decided to take my prospective client away from me."
Steven's sharp features tightened. "That's not what happened."
Valerie angled her head. "Am I going to be project lead, then?"
Steven sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "No."
"Well, then." Valerie backed into her condo.
Steven stepped forward and braced his hand against the door to keep her from closing it. "Please, Val. I'll only take a few minutes of your time."
Resentment crawled through her like a parasite hoping to feed. But courtesy and professionalism kept her from shoving him off her doorstep. Valerie pulled the door open. "That's about all I have. I'm on my way out." She couldn't be late to her Thursday evening commitment.
Steven entered her home, carrying an energy and charisma that crowded her. His six-foot-four-inch frame made her feel delicate and small even though she was five-foot-seven-inches in her stocking feet. She secured her door, then led Steven through her living room, past her dining room and into her kitchen.
She gestured for him to take a seat at her blond wood, rectangular kitchen table with its matching chairs. "Would you like some apple juice?"
"Thank you." His voice followed her across the room. "Do you have a child?"
Valerie frowned at the nature of his question and the tightness of his tone. She grabbed the container of apple juice from the refrigerator before pushing its door closed. "No. Why?"
Steven gestured toward the drawings tacked to her refrigerator. "Who's the artist?"
Valerie glanced at the artwork covering her fridge. The makeshift gallery displayed a broad spectrum of artistic styles, from the painfully precise to the wildly abandoned and everything in between.
A faint smile eased her frown. She poured a tall glass of juice and handed it to Steven. "Artists. Plural. I volunteer at Miami Children's Hospital, drawing with the kids. Sometimes they give me their pictures."
Steven's lips, well-formed and firm, curved with pleasure. His black velvet eyes softened. "And you display them. That's nice."
The hummingbirds beat frantically in her stomach again. Valerie turned from him to pour herself a glass of juice. She crossed the room to return the container to the fridge and claimed the pint of fat-free milk. "What more is there to say about the Good 'N Healthy Foods account?"
Valerie steeled herself to discuss the natural foods and supplement company she'd hoped to bring aboard Parker Advertising, her family's agency. Unfortunately, her father, the agency's co-founder and senior partner, didn't think she was capable-or worthy?-of being the project's lead. Despite her protests, he'd assigned the campaign proposal to his junior partner. It had made a crummy ending to a promising day.
Steven swallowed some of his juice. "I've read your report on Good 'N Healthy Foods. It's very good, but it's not quite as thorough as the reports you've written in the past."
Seriously? He was complaining about the preliminary work she'd done for the client he stole? What nerve.
Valerie counted to ten as she deposited the pint of milk on the kitchen counter and pulled a box of Kellogg's Apple Jacks from a cupboard across the room. She finished counting and waved the box at Steven. "Would you like some?"
"No, thanks. Is that your dinner?"
"I need to go grocery shopping." She shook the cereal into a bowl she'd taken from another cupboard. "I'm sorry you're not satisfied with the background research I did on the company and its current ad agency. If I'd had more time, I would have gift wrapped the report for you."
Valerie looked up for his reaction. Was that a gleam of amusement in his black velvet eyes? Was he enjoying himself while her temper bubbled like Mount Vesuvius?
"Your work is excellent, as usual. But I think you withheld information." His eyes challenged her.
Valerie kept her gaze steady on his. "What information are you looking for?"
Steven angled away from the table and lifted his right ankle to his left knee. "You typically include your ideas on how to approach the campaign, what tone to use and insights the client might have shared with you."
Valerie lowered her eyelids. She poured milk over her cereal. "You mean my rough presentation outline. I believe, as the project lead, that's your job."
"But you spoke with the client."
"Yes, I did." She carried her dinner to the kitchen table and claimed the seat across from him.
Silence ensued as they locked gazes and battled wills. He didn't seem so amused now. In fact, there seemed to be a transference of frustration. Valerie swallowed a spoonful of cereal-and her satisfaction.
Steven spoke first. "For the good of the agency, I think we should try harder to work together."
"You mean I should try harder to work for you." She gave him a condescending smile. "I have a better idea. For the good of the agency, I should be the project lead for this presentation."
"How would that benefit the agency?"
Valerie had been right about that transference. His frustration was beginning to show.
"When I told Garry that we should diversify our client base, I suggested creating two account teams. Your team would focus on the sports industry clients like the ones we have now. My team would build clients in other industries, like Good 'N Healthy Foods."
"I can handle other industries. I know about things outside of sports."
"I'm sure you can. But sports is your area of expertise, as Garry tells me repeatedly."
In fact, the former NCAA basketball savior and NBA star shooting guard could walk into any sporting event and walk out with three new clients for the agency. She didn't know how he did it and didn't want to ask. But perhaps she should, because Mr. Congeniality had walked into their four o'clock meeting today with her father and walked out with her potential client.
Steven lowered his right foot to her kitchen's pale gold tile. "I bring more to the agency than my basketball background. I do have an advertising degree, remember? And I've worked on several presentations over the past year-"
"Some of those presentations I worked on with you."
Did he have to bring up the projects they'd worked on together? Valerie shifted in her seat as her body temperature rose. She'd enjoyed those collaborations more than she cared to admit.
Valerie lowered her spoon. "One person can't keep up with the volume of work we'll get if we broaden our client base beyond the sports industry. We need a second team."
She sensed Steven considering her idea. What did he think? Did he agree with her? Would he add his support to her proposal?
"That's not the way Garry wants to handle it. And he's the senior partner." Steven finished off his apple juice.
His response disappointed but didn't surprise her. Valerie dragged her attention from the sight of Steven's throat muscles contracting as he drank. "So you were just following orders when you took my client this afternoon?"
Steven shifted in his seat. Was that a sign of guilt? "I didn't take your client. We can work on the project together."
"With you as the lead." Was he hard of hearing or incapable of reason? "I want my own accounts. I've earned them."
Steven scanned her kitchen. What did he hope to find in the spacious pale gold room? She was neat, or at least she tried to be. She kept everything in its place, and drew the line at frills and knickknacks. Valerie had chosen the white wood trim, white stone counters, and pale gold walls and flooring to make the tiny area appear more spacious. The steel appliances were durable.
His eyes returned to hers. "We work well together. Our campaigns have earned industry awards."
Valerie nodded, finishing her meal. "I also received several awards before you joined the agency."
Steven treated her to another look of intense scrutiny. She had the sense he was adjusting his strategy to salvage a win. Those tactics had worked for him on the basketball court. Too bad for him, her career wasn't a game.
"You'll have other opportunities for promotion, Val. Your father's not ready to expand the firm now, but give him time. He'll see the wisdom of your proposal."
Valerie's shoulders rose and fell on a cleansing breath. "I hope so."
Tension lifted from Steven's features. "In the meantime, will you work with me on the campaign presentation for Good 'N Healthy Foods?"
"No." She stood to carry her cereal bowl and glass to the sink.
Steven followed her with his empty glass. A reluctant smile curved his full lips. "You're one stubborn woman."
Valerie felt her lips tip upward in response. "It's part of my charm."
"Only part of it?" Steven turned to face Valerie at the sink. "How will not helping with the presentation convince your father to give you your own accounts?"
He stood so close. Valerie could breathe his scent, musk and sandalwood. She could feel his heat reacting with hers.
She stepped back and returned to the table. She wasn't running away. She just needed the distance to think. "My work with the agency isn't appreciated. Maybe by working on the presentation alone, you'll see the value I bring to our projects. Then, maybe Garry will stop treating me like your groupie."
Steven frowned. "Your father doesn't treat you like my groupie."
Valerie crossed her arms. "I'm curious. Why didn't you start your own agency? You have the money, and you can obviously get the clients."
Steven considered her as though he'd heard her unspoken wish that he leave her family's agency, her home and her life. "I don't have the experience of running an advertising agency. I thought your father would be a good mentor."
She'd thought as much. How long would she have to wait until the mentoring was complete and the great Steven Crennell left the agency?
Valerie turned to lead him back to her front door. "You're on your own with this project, Steve."
Steven followed her. "You're not being reasonable."
Valerie laughed. "Of course you'd say that. If you're not getting what you want, it's because I'm being unreasonable. And you probably believe that."
"You and I don't make the decisions, Val. Your father does."
"Are you going to tell on me because I won't help you?" She smiled as she made the childish taunt.
Steven stared at her mouth a moment before lifting his eyes. "I'm not your enemy."
She knew that. Deep inside, she knew that. But if it wasn't Steven's fault that her father didn't see her worth, whose fault was it?
Valerie opened the door. "I don't know what you are, Steve. But I do know you're in my way."
Steven loved the familiar gym sounds. Squeaking sneakers, dribbling balls, shouts, grunts, curses and cheers. He walked from the locker room, showered and dressed after his workout. Steven wished he could as easily wash away the argument he'd had with Valerie earlier.
He pushed past that thought and instead watched the young men from the neighborhood battle on the basketball court. The small forward on the team that seemed to be losing was having a hard time getting his teammates to follow his direction. That's life, kid. Get used to it. The ballplayers spied him watching and ran faster, jumped higher and tried harder. They'd reacted the same way earlier while he'd run the track above the court. Their basketball skills weren't what the center was about, though. The goal of the Nia Neighborhood Recreational Center was to prepare kids for what could happen if their sports dreams ended. Like his had.
"I hope you're thinking about the center's New Year's Eve party."
Steven turned to watch his former teammate and Nia Center business partner, Marlon Burress, saunter toward him. "I thought you were going to plan it."
A reluctant grin lit the NBA player's face. "No, man. You're not going to run that game on me. You're the one with all the rules. Six books and book reports per kid by December first or no New Year's Eve party? That's harsh, player."
Steven shrugged. "It's working. Most of them have already turned in their six reports."
He took in the suspended track on which he'd just finished running laps, and the basketball court with bleachers. Bordering the court's three sides were study rooms and a small library, complete with computers and Wi-Fi. He'd built this, he and Marlon with the help of family and friends. The center's purpose-its nia-was to encourage physical and mental fitness. Strong bodies, strong minds.
Marlon turned and moved to the bleachers. "If we don't get all the reports, will we still have the party?"
Steven followed him, sitting beside his friend on the first bench. "No. I'm not going back on my word."
"Well, it's not even Thanksgiving yet. The stragglers still have more than two weeks." Marlon rested his elbows on his thighs. His folded hands hung between his knees.
Steven watched as the teenaged boys tore up the court. They'd ramped up their game once Marlon Burress, star shooting guard for his former team, the Miami Waves, entered the center. Would he and his friend have to break up a fight? He hoped not.
Marlon cut short their companionable silence. "You heard Walt's divorce is final." He made it a statement rather than a question.
"No, I hadn't." Steven waited to feel something on learning his former teammate had divorced his ex-fiancée. Nothing. "That didn't last long."
Marlon shook his head. "Less than four years. He should've realized something was wrong when Trace said she wanted to open her health spa in Colorado. Everybody else did."
After his career-ending knee injury, Steven's then-fiancée, Traci Greer, broke their engagement and married Walter Millbank. The end of their four-year relationship had been a vicious kick when Steven had already been down. "How's Walt?"
"His divorce is affecting his game."
Steven nodded. He'd noticed the power forward's game wasn't as sharp as it used to be. But at least, after the breakup, Walt had had a game to return to. "He's going to have to pull himself together."
The kids on the court kept playing. They'd been at it for at least two hours. Would they continue the game until he and Marlon left?
Marlon shifted on the bench beside him. "Marrying Trace was a mistake Walt's going to pay for for years."
"Literally. Trace got what she wanted."
"Yeah. Walt's money. You got off easy, my friend."
The pain, physical rehabilitation and uncertainty hadn't seemed easy to Steven. "How?"
"Walt got your lady. But you made all this." His spread arms took in the recreation center.
Steven's smile was part pleasure, part pride as he corrected his friend. "We made this."
"Right." Marlon nodded. "Now, Walt's paying Trace serious jack in alimony, while the center continues to benefit more and more kids. Who's sleeping better at night?"
Marlon was trying to make him feel better. Should he tell his friend it wasn't necessary?
Steven rubbed the back of his neck. "I feel sorry for Walt. Nobody likes to be played."
"Sometimes I wish I had a decoder ring when I meet a honey. Yeah, a Honey Decoder Ring. That's what we need. It would turn green if the lady just wanted to have a good time. Red would mean she was planning to set me up for a paternity suit."
Excerpted from Heated Rivalry by Patricia Sargeant Copyright © 2010 by Patricia Sargeant-Matthews. Excerpted by permission.
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