His To Possess #1
By Opal Carew
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2013 Opal Carew
All rights reserved.
Jessica watched the busy traffic and streams of people passing by the window as she took a last sip of coffee, then set the empty mug on the table. One man crossing the street toward her caught her eye. There was something familiar about his face, but she couldn't get a good look at him to figure out why.
She pulled her wallet from her purse and placed her credit card on the bill the waitress had left on a plastic tray on the table. Eating at this little restaurant a block from her hotel had definitely been a good idea. The food here was much cheaper than at the hotel restaurant and this trip to Philadelphia was already straining her budget. Coming here for the big career fair was worth the risk, though.
The waitress came by and picked up her card. As Jessica waited for her to return, she continued watching the men and women rushing by in business attire, trying to catch sight of the man again.
Self-consciously, she reached behind her head and checked her hair, which was coiled and held up with a clip. She didn't usually wear her long, black hair up, but she felt it looked more professional this way. The same with her smart charcoal gray suit and white blouse. Not her usual attire, since the environment at her cousin's Sally's company, where Jessica had last worked, had been pretty casual and everyone who worked there normally wore jeans to the office. Thank heavens for credit cards.
She glanced at her watch, and her stomach churned. She had to get going. The waitress returned with her card and Jessica signed the slip and tucked the receipt into her wallet. As she slipped on her coat, she noticed the man again, this time buying a newspaper from a newsstand just outside. She froze when she realized why this man had drawn her attention.
It was Storm.
This man, in his expensive-looking, tailored suit, his dark hair in a short and stylish cut, was the opposite of the Storm she knew. Her Storm had spiky hair and was typically in comfortable jeans and a skin-tight tank top that showed off his muscles and tattoos, with a black leather jacket at the ready for when he hopped on his big, sleek Harley. He was a guitarist in her brother's rock band, and he wouldn't be caught dead in business attire.
She watched this suited man as he tucked the paper under his arm and started walking down the street. That was definitely Storm's face. She gathered her purse and briefcase from the chair beside her and stood up. What was Storm doing here? And dressed like that?
She hadn't seen him in over a month. Not since the night he'd walked out on her.
Everything had been so good between them before that. Her heartbeat sped up at the memory. It had been better than good. All the women in town had been gaga over him, but he'd only had eyes for her. Hot, incredibly sexy eyes. She almost giggled at the memory. He was so tall, sexy, and macho. He could have had any woman he wanted, but he'd chosen her. He'd always made her melt inside every time he looked at her with that bad boy smile, and those smoldering, love-filled eyes.
At least, she'd thought it had been love, but clearly she'd been wrong. He'd up and left her life as abruptly as he'd entered it six months earlier, leaving her heartbroken and lonely.
She strolled to the door of the restaurant and stepped outside into the cool air. The sky was overcast and she hoped the rain would hold off until she was inside the career fair.
She noticed Storm was now in the crowd of people waiting at the light on the next block. The light turned green and he crossed.
Why was he here in Philadelphia?
Was it possible he'd come here looking for her? Maybe her mom had told him she was here and he'd come looking for her to tell her he couldn't live without her.
But surely Mom wouldn't do that.
It was a farfetched thought anyway, because right now he and the band should be traveling through California. But she couldn't think of any other reason why Storm would be in Philadelphia. And he was walking in the direction of her hotel.
Her heart swelled at the thought that he still loved her. She longed to be in his arms again. His hard, muscular body pressed tight to hers. His big, strong arms around her.
Oh, God, she'd missed him. Dreamt of him night after night, waking up quivering with need.
She glanced at her watch. She could grab a cab to the career fair, which would get her there fairly quickly. That way, a short detour shouldn't make her late. She hurried across the street after him. He turned into a Starbucks. Perfect. She could go in and just casually run into him. No biggie. Just two old friends happening across each other in a new city.
She opened the door and hurried inside, then glanced around and saw him at the counter placing his order.
Her heart fluttered. She knew that if he turned and gave her that heart-melting smile of his, then told her he wanted her back, she'd throw herself into his arms and kiss him like crazy. Then she would probably drag him back to her hotel room.
A smile curled her lips. Why kid herself? If he was here to win her back — and why else would he be here? — she would welcome him with open arms.
She drew back her shoulders and marched toward him.
"Storm," she said as casually as she could manage.
He poured cream into his coffee, then opened a sugar packet, totally ignoring her.
She stepped closer. "Storm."
He glanced toward her and her heart stopped. Oh, God, that's not Storm.
Her cheeks heated as she stared at the complete stranger.
A stranger who was every bit as handsome as Storm. Electricity sizzled through her as his piercing blue eyes locked on her. Those eyes were darker than Storm's, but with the same navy ring around the rim. And his dark brown hair, though cut much shorter than Storm's, was the same glossy texture and color. In fact, their features were strikingly similar, which was why she'd mistaken this man for Storm in the first place.
His eyebrows arched. "Excuse me?" he said, in a deep masculine voice.
"Oh, um ..." She drew in a shaky breath. "I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else."
He smiled. "Are you meeting this someone here?" "Oh, no. I'm from out of town and I thought ... you just look like someone I know."
"So you were hoping for a friendly face."
The warmth in his eyes, lit up by that debonair smile of his, stirred something deep inside her. She imagined this man asking her to join him for coffee, then them talking ... and him inviting her to dinner, and that leading to ... She swallowed. "Um, I just wanted to say hello. I mean, to Storm. Not you." Oh, damn, now she sounded rude.
Her heart thumped loudly in her chest and all she could think of was getting out of here. Away from this man's speculative gaze.
This sexy, drop-dead gorgeous man.
"Would you like to join me for a coffee?" he asked.
Panic welled up in her as she realized she was actually considering accepting. Did she really want this stranger to pick her up?
She glanced at her watch. "Sorry, I have to be somewhere. Um ... good-bye." With that she turned and raced out of the shop, her face still burning.
* * *
Dane watched the lovely woman scurry out the door as if she were escaping a predator.
Lightning flashed outside and what had started as a light rain now streamed down the window panes. He liked to walk to the office in the morning, but he drew the line at getting soaked. He picked up his coffee and sat down at one of the tables, then pulled out his cell phone. Outside he could see the lovely stranger trying to hail a cab. He smiled as he watched her timid attempts. Not even stepping off the sidewalk and making a pitiful little hand gesture toward the street. She'd never get a cab that way.
* * *
Jessica stuck out her hand as a cab drove past, but it didn't stop. Being from a small town, she wasn't used to hailing cabs, but she'd watched others doing it and it seemed simple enough. Most of the cabs that had driven by over the past few minutes had their top lights off, indicating they were unavailable. This one had its light on, but there were passengers inside, so maybe the driver had forgotten to turn it off. She tried to hail another, but it stopped for someone a little farther down the street. After several more failed attempts, she started to feel invisible.
The rain, which had begun as a drizzle, started coming down harder. Why hadn't she thought to bring an umbrella? Water streamed down her hair.
She tried for another cab, and was pleased to see it pull up, but then a couple pushed past her and hopped inside. She stared at them, her mouth agape at their rudeness.
A black limousine pulled up and the back window glided down.
"Can I offer you a lift?" said a familiar male voice. It was the man from the Starbucks.
Should she just climb into a limo with a stranger?
Water dribbled down her forehead and she wiped it away.
"Yes, thank you."
* * *
Jessica settled into the leather seat beside the stranger who looked so much like Storm. The limo pulled smoothly into traffic.
"Where are you heading?" he asked.
She pulled the address from her purse and handed it to him.
"Jeff, we'll be dropping the lady at the DoubleTree on Broad Street."
"Yes, sir," the chauffeur said, then closed the smoked glass partition.
This man must be pretty rich with his expensive suit and a chauffeur driving him around. The thought intimidated her a little.
She shifted in the seat, aware that she was dripping water all over the buttery leather seats.
"Thank you again. I really appreciate the ride."
The man beside her smiled. "My pleasure. My name is Dane."
He offered his hand and she grasped it for a handshake.
"I'm Jessica Long."
Heat hummed through her as his fingers closed around hers, then he gently squeezed before he let go. He was so big and masculine. Her hormones pulsed through her, tempting her to lean in a little closer and breathe in the musky male scent of him.
He reached into a compartment beside the seat and handed her a towel. "The rain has played havoc with your hair."
He flipped open a mirror on one of the side panels and she could see her drooping wet hair.
"Oh, no. I look awful."
He smiled. "I wouldn't say that."
She pulled the clip from the back of her head and her hair tumbled over her shoulders. She towel dried it, then pulled a brush out of her purse and ran it through her long, and now only slightly damp, tresses.
"Your hair looks lovely like that."
She glanced at his smiling face and her insides quivered at the heat in his eyes.
"Um ... thanks. I think it looks more professional up, though."
"You're going to a business meeting, I presume."
"A career fair, actually." She twisted her long hair into a coil, then clipped it up again. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror and tucked in a few loose strands.
"Ah, things too limiting in your current job?"
"I don't have a job right now," she admitted. "In fact, I've been out of work for four months." She glanced at his face, expecting to see disapproval, but he simply waited for her to continue. "I come from a small town and jobs are really limited there."
"Well, you're doing the right thing coming to the city. There'll be a lot of opportunities at the career fair."
She nodded, but the thought of walking into a room with all those people looking for jobs, the employers assessing everyone who stepped into their booth, made her stomach queasy.
"You don't look convinced," he said.
She shook her head. "I'm just nervous because I'm not used to networking and being interviewed. For the past six years I worked for my cousin, Sally, who had her own company developing Web sites. Then she got married and moved to Oregon."
Damn, she was nattering.
"When you're talking to a potential employer, just keep three things in mind."
She gazed at him with a keen focus, ready to soak in his words of wisdom.
"Listen to what the other person has to say. Respond with something positive."
At his pause, she prompted, "And the third thing?" "Smile. When you do that, your whole face lights up."
She glanced down at her clasped hands self-consciously. "Thank you, but I doubt that will make a difference."
"It will. It makes you memorable, and that gives you an edge. When these people go back to their offices with a whole stack of résumés and a vague memory of the short interviews they had with people, they'll be more inclined to call back someone who stands out, even if that reason is because of a beautiful smile."
She knew he was just trying to make her feel better, but she decided to put his advice into action. "That sounds like great advice. Thank you." Then she smiled.
He chuckled. "I know you don't believe it, but trust me. It'll work."
The limo slowed down and Dane glanced out the window. "We're almost there."
"Thanks for the ride."
The limo pulled to a stop and the driver got out of the car.
"One more thing." He pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to her.
She took what appeared to be a flat stone from his hand.
"It's a tranquility stone. Keep it in your pocket and if you feel yourself getting anxious, rub it between your thumb and finger. It'll help calm your nerves. It'll also remind you to follow my advice."
It was a lovely pale blue with white bands, flat, and completely smooth. And it was still warm from being in his pocket. Close to his body. She stroked her thumb over the surface. It was so ... comforting.
"I can't take your stone."
He shrugged. "Of course you can."
The driver opened the door.
"Oh, well ... again, thank you." She slipped the stone in her coat pocket.
The driver held an umbrella over her as she got out of the car.
She turned back and Dane held out her briefcase.
"Jessica, you'll do fine today. I'm sure you'll find a great job."
She nodded and turned away as the driver closed the car door, then walked her to the entrance of the hotel. As she went inside, she realized she should have asked for his card. That was one of the basics of networking. Man, she really was bad at this.
* * *
Jessica relaxed into the soft, cushioned booth at the quiet restaurant six blocks from the hotel. She'd spoken to more than two dozen employers today and she was exhausted. She was looking forward to a nice quiet dinner, then going back to her room to recharge before tomorrow. One more harrowing day meeting employers, then she'd be on her way home.
Her fingers stroked over the tranquility stone in her skirt pocket. She was surprised she hadn't worn a hole through it. Dane had been right, it had helped her relax. And she had followed his advice. Listen, make a positive comment, and smile. But she wasn't sure how much good it had done her. After most of the interviews, they just said they'd keep her résumé on file for six months.
Having the stone, and following Dane's advice, had made her think of him all day long. They'd said good-bye this morning and she knew she'd never see him again, but she wished it could be different. It was sweet how he'd offered her a drive, and then given her advice on how to succeed at the career fair.
Her finger stroked over the smooth stone in her hand. It was just a stone, but it had been his. He'd carried it with him. And he'd given it to her. As a gift.
The warmth of the stone against her fingers reminded her of the warmth of his fingers around hers when he'd shaken her hand. There'd been a spark of interest in his warm blue eyes.
The waitress arrived with the wine she'd asked for. Except instead of placing a single glass full of wine in front of her, she placed an empty glass and poured from a blue bottle, then set it on the table.
"I'm sorry, there's been a mistake," Jessica said. "I ordered a glass of the house wine."
"I assure you, this is a much better choice."
At the familiar masculine voice, she glanced up to see Dane standing beside the table smiling at her. She pulled herself up straighter in the chair, her heart racing.
"How did you find me?"
"I wanted to invite you to dinner, so I called the closest hotels to where we met this morning and asked for you. When I found your hotel, you weren't in, so I stopped by the hotel and bribed the concierge for any information he might have about where you went. He remembered you calling down to ask for a recommendation on where to eat." He smiled. "And voilà, here I am."
She smiled. "So you were stalking me." She couldn't believe an important man like Dane would even give her a second thought.
"May I join you for dinner?"
His powerful masculine presence and devastatingly attractive smile dazzled her. She concentrated on keeping her breathing even.
"Well, I can't drink a whole bottle of wine by myself and I'd hate to see it go to waste."
He sat across from her and the waitress produced another wineglass, filled it, and set it in front of Dane.
He sipped it and smiled at her. "Very nice. What do you think?"
She tasted the wine and a subtle flavor of delicate fruits danced across her tongue. She didn't know a lot about wine, but she found this one delightful.
"It's very nice. Thank you."
"My pleasure." He ordered a seafood pasta from the waitress, then turned back to Jessica. "So how did it go?" He picked up the cloth napkin from his plate and unfolded it, then set it on his lap. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Seduction by Opal Carew. Copyright © 2013 Opal Carew. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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