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Cari Chandler paused in the doorway of the conference room. On the far wall was a portrait of her grandfather looking very young and very determined. Since he'd never been a "happy" man, she hardly noticed that he wasn't smiling. He certainly wouldn't be convivial at this moment when the grandson of his most-hated enemy was in his stronghold.
Since the late '70s the Chandlers and the Montroses had been feuding and trying to cut each other out of the video-game market. Her grandfather had won that long-ago skirmish by making a deal with a Japanese company, cutting Thomas Montrose out, but none of that mattered today as the Montrose heirs and their Playtone Games had just delivered the feudending blow with their hostile takeover of Infinity Games. And leaving Cari and her sisters, Emma and Jessi, to pick up the wreckage and try to forge some sort of deal that would save their jobs and their legacy.
But Cari as COO was the one who'd been chosen to deal with Declan Montrose. It made sense, since operations were her area, but the secret she'd been harboring for too long suddenly felt like it had a choke hold on her, and she wished she'd confided in her sisters so that maybe she wouldn't have to deal with Dec today.
The conference table was long and made of dark wood, and the chairs positioned around it were leather. She focused on the details of the room instead of the man she saw standing by the window. He hadn't changed much in the eighteen months since she'd last seen him.
From the back she could see his reddish-brown hair was a little longer than it had been before, but was still thick and curly where it hit his collar. His shoulders were still as broad, tapering to a narrow waist and that whipcord-lean frame that she'd remembered pressed against her as he'd held her. A shiver of sensual awareness coursed through her.
Don't. Don't think of any of that, she warned herself. Focus on the takeover. One problem at a time.
"Dec." She called his name. Her voice sounded strong, which pleased her since inside she was quaking. "I didn't think I'd see you again."
"I'm sure it's a pleasant surprise," he said with a sardonic grin as he left the window and walked over to stand not more than six inches from her.
The familiar smell of his spicy, outdoorsy aftershave surrounded her, and she closed her eyes as she remembered how strongly the scent had lingered on his skin right at the base of his neck. Then she forced herself to get it together, crossing her arms over her chest and remembering he was here for business. The knock at the door provided her with the distraction she needed. "Come in," she called.
Ally, her assistant, entered with two Infinity Games logo mugs, handing one to Dec and giving the other to Cari. Cari walked around to the head of the table, already feeling more in control now that Dec was on the other side of it from her. She was aware of Ally asking if Dec needed anything in his coffee and him answering he took it black, and then Ally was gone.
"Please sit down," she invited, gesturing to the chair across from hers.
"I don't remember you being so formal," he said as he pulled out a chair and took his seat.
She ignored that remark. Really, what could she say? From the moment she'd first seen him she'd been attracted to him. Even after she'd learned he was a Mon-trose and technically her family's enemy, she'd still wanted him.
"I assume you're here to talk about moving assets around in my company," she said.
He nodded. "I'll be spending the next six weeks doing an assessment of the assets in the company and on this campus here. I understand you have three different gaming divisions?"
Wow. She should have been prepared for it, but he'd just completely shut off his emotions and switched to business. She wanted to be able to do the same, but she'd never been that good at hiding what she felt. Cyborg, she'd heard him called. He lived up to that moniker today.
He looked over at her and she realized she was just staring at him. This wasn't going to work. She'd call Emma, her oldest sister and the chief executive officer of Infinity, as soon as he left and tell her that she or Jessi would have to work with Dec. Though to be fair, as chief marketing officer, Jessi wasn't really the one who should be handling Dec.
"Sorry. Yes, they all report to meonline, console and mobile."
"I will need to set up meetings with everyone in the company. The way this will work is that each person will be assessed and rated, and then I will give a presentation to our combined board of directors with my recommendations."
"No problem. Emma mentioned you wanted to talk to the staff. Do you think you'll just be here one or two days a week?" she asked, mentally crossing her fingers.
"No. I want to set up an office so I can be here in the thick of things," he said, leaning forward. "Is that going to be a problem?"
"Not at all," she said with the only smile she could muster. She'd rather not see him ever again, but that wasn't going to happen and she was mature so she could deal with it. She knew her smile must have looked forced when he laughed.
"You were never good at hiding your feelings," he said.
She shook her head. Though his statement was true, it wasn't something that he could know from personal experience. They'd had a one-night stand, not a relationship. "Don't say it like that. You don't know me at all. We only had one date and one night together."
"I think I got a fairly good impression of you," he said.
"Really?" she asked. She told herself to let it go and just concentrate on the business end of things, but that was going to be impossible. "Then why'd you leave me alone in that hotel room?"
He leaned back in his chair and took a long swallow of his coffee before standing up to pace around the room to her side of the table. He leaned back against the table and stared down at her, and she was tempted to stand up so he wasn't towering over her. But she didn't want him to think he intimated her.
"I'm not really a man for attachments," he said at last. "And though you think I don't know you, Cari Chandler, I'd have to be a blind fool not to see that you care too much."
She wanted to deny it, but the truth was she was the bleeding heart of the Chandler family. She volunteered, donated time and money to charities and causes and she'd fallen for more than one sob story at work. Emma had been furious at first, until she realized it made their employees loyal because they felt that the executive management cared.
"I wasn't going to cling to you and profess undying love, Dec," she said. She barely knew him after one sex-filled night. She might have been interested in seeing him again and getting to know him better, but she'd learned all she needed to know when he'd left her. "It was only one night."
"It was a fabulous night, Cari," he said, putting his hand on the back of her chair and spinning her around to face him. "Maybe I should remind you of how good we are together."
She pushed the chair back, standing up. It was time for her to take control of this meeting. "Not necessary. While I remember the details of the night, it's really the morning after that stuck with me."
"That's why I left," he said in that wry way of his. "I'm not good at dealing with the aftermath."
"Aftermath?" she asked.
"You know, the emotional stuff women usually bring up," he said. "The clingy things."
She shook her head. It was clear that a one-night stand was all that Dec intended for her to be. With her secret looming in her mind, she knew she had to say something about their night together, but for now she wasn't going to. She would focus on the business and try to figure out a way to save her family's legacy from being dismantled and destroyed.
Though she had to admit hearing Dec talk made her sad because she wanted better for herself. She had wanted to hear him say he wished he hadn't left and that he'd thought of her every day Probably what he would term emotionally clingy stuff.
"Disappointed?" he asked.
"I guess I know why an eligible billionaire like you is still single," she said, trying not to be disenchanted that he was exactly like she'd thought he was. She'd hoped she'd just caught him on a bad day.
"Maybe the right girl just hasn't tried hard enough to change me," he said with a cocky half grin.
"Oh, you don't seem like the sort of man who can be changed," she said.
"Touche. I'm happy with my life. But that doesn't mean I don't know how to appreciate a woman like you when our paths cross."
She wanted to stay angry with him, but he was honest and she couldn't fault him there. Even though she'd hoped for longer with Dec, she'd known from the moment they'd gone to dinner that all he wanted was an affair.
"I think I'd have more luck changing the direction of the Santa Ana winds," she said.
"Have dinner with me and we can find out," he said.
"Would you be willing to discuss Playtone Games being a silent partner in Infinity?"
He laughed. "Not happening."
"Then neither is dinner." No matter how much he cajoled she needed distance and a chance to really think before she just jumped back into something foolish with him.
"We have to work together, so I don't think us spending time together outside the office would be wise," she said at last. She used to be more impulsive, but wasn't anymore. Her one-night stand with this man had reminded her there were consequences for acting without thinking.
"The Cari I know doesn't make decisions with only her head."
"I've changed," she said bluntly. Maybe if she hadn't fallen for his smooth-talking ways and blunt sexuality. What?
"I like it," he said slickly.
Cari knew she had to face facts that the man she'd had a one-night stand with was back in town. And it was becoming abundantly clear that a corporate takeover was the least of her problems. She was going to have to tell him about her son his son.
And she had no idea how to do that.
Cari had changed. That was easy to see even for a guy who'd spent only one night in her company. Dec knew things between them had always seemed complicated. Never more so than now. Their families were hated enemies of each other and his cousin, Keller Montrose, the CEO of Playtone Games, wasn't going to be happy unless Infinity was completely broken apart so that nothing of Gregory Chandler's legacy remained.
And this pretty blonde woman standing before him was going to be nothing more than collateral damage.
Dec had never been able to see her as his hated enemy. From the first moment he'd laid eyes on her he'd wanted to know more about herand not so he could figure out how to use that information to take over her company.
Being adopted, Dec never truly felt like a real Mon-trose and was always striving to prove he was as loyal as both Kell and their other cousin, Allan McKinney.
Being back in California, conveniently with Cari, seemed his chance to do his job and continue to prove his worth to the Montrose family, as well as hopefully reconnect with the woman he hadn't been able to forget. With her thick blond hair that fell in smooth waves past her shoulders and her pretty cornflower-blue eyes, she'd haunted him. He couldn't forget the way she'd looked up at him as he'd held her in his arms.
Now that he had the chance to get a proper look at her, he could see the year and a half they'd been apart had added a quiet confidence to her. He started at her tiny feet in those pretty brown two-inch heels and moved upward. Her ankles were still trim, but her calves seemed more muscular. The hem of her skirt kept him from seeing any more of her legs but her hips seemed fuller more pronounced. Her waist was still impossibly small, he noted, as the button on her jacket flaunted. Her breastswhoa, they were a lot larger. She'd been slim and small but she was much
"Eyes up here, buddy," she said, pointing to her baby blues.
He shrugged and then smiled at her. "I can see that you have changed a lot in the past year. Your figure is much fuller than before, but I like that."
He walked toward her with a long, languid stride and she backed up until there was nowhere for her to go. She put her hand up to stop him, keeping him an arm's length away. He stood there, staring down into her eyes, and had to admit there was something different about her. It was in her eyes. She watched him more closely than she had before.
She looked tired and he thought, well, duh, Playtone had finally gotten the upper hand on Infinity Games and she was more than likely worried about her job.
He backed away from her. "Sorry. I didn't mean to come on too strong. I'm sure losing your company to us was a shock."
"That's a bit of an understatement."
He smiled at the way she said it. "I'm a little jetlagged still."
"Jet-lagged? I wasn't aware that there was a time zone between the Infinity Games campus and the Play-tone offices," she said.
She gave up nothing. And he wondered how he could have missed this side to Cari eighteen months ago. But then he'd been in full-on lust and it was safe to say his brain hadn't been controlling him.
"I've been in Australia for a little over a year managing our takeover of Kanga Games."
"You let them keep their corporate identity," she said.
"They didn't screw our grandfather over."
"My sisters and I didn't either. We've always dealt with you and your cousins fairly."
"I'm afraid that doesn't matter when it comes to revenge," he said.
"Surely profit matters."
She nodded and moved back to her chair. He sat down and so did she. She steepled her fingers together and he noticed she wore a ring on her right hand now that she hadn't before. It was a platinum band of hearts with a row of diamonds in the center. It seemed the kind of ring a lover would have given her. Was she involved with someone now?
Maybe that was where her new confidence stemmed from. She had a lover now. Well, he could be happy for her. Even though he regretted that he might not ever get to kiss her again.
"When did you get back from Australia?" she asked as she toyed with the ring. Those little gestures seemed to indicate her nervousness, though the rest of her body language didn't support that.
"Saturday, but I'm still adjusting. And seeing you again surprised me," he admitted, reaching for his briefcase, which he'd stowed next to his chair, and putting it on the table. He had his computer and the files he'd already started studying on the takeover.
"How did it surprise you? I knew you'd be here this morning," she said. "Didn't you know it would be me?"
"Yes, Emma informed me via email," he said. He wasn't about to tell her that he'd never expected to react so strongly to her presence. Not now. He'd thought since they'd slept together all the chemistry would be gone but he'd been wrong.
The mystery of her body had been revealed to him. There wasn't an inch of it he didn't remember, though he realized now, with the flesh-and-blood woman standing before him, that those memories were a pale imitation of the real thing.