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Entering the expansive Jarrod Ridge Manor hotel through a private side entrance, Trevor Jarrod stomped the snow from his heavy ski boots and headed down the long hallway toward his office.
Thick oriental rugs lined the golden, highly glossed wooden floors as he passed his brothers' offices. Some of the doors were closed, others were open, voices and sounds of keyboards or ringing phones drifting out.
Opposite the row of office suites, tall, narrow tables dotted the fog-colored walls, each boasting a cobalt-blue vase that in summer would be stuffed with fresh roses and hydrangeas or other seasonal arrangements. Currently, however, they overflowed with bright red, burgeoning poinsettias to mark the upcoming Christmas holiday.
Stone and wood accents filled this wing of the Manor as well as the rest of the main hotel, which had been the original structure at Jarrod Ridge Resort more than a hundred years before. Since then, the resort had grown by leaps and bounds, with additions to the Manor, and separate lodges, shops and other accommodations being built on and around until the place looked for all the world like a quaint, isolated little village.
But the family's offices were still located here in the main building, and their private living quartersfor those who chose to stay therestill occupied the top floor of the Manor, keeping the Jarrods very tight-knit and in near constant contact, whether they liked it or not.
Reaching his own office, Trevor greeted Diana, personal assistant extraordinaire, before stashing his skis in the wide hidden closet behind her desk.
"How were the slopes this morning?" she asked, tipping her head to one side so that her long, black, curly hair fell over her shoulder.
"Could have been better," he replied, stripping out of his navy-blue ski clothes and switching to a pair of worn Timberlands to go with his jeans and tan cable-knit cashmere sweater.
Casual for office attire, sure, but then so was going to work straight from a run down the slopes. And this was, after all, a ski resortas well as a spa, summer retreat and host location for one of Colorado's biggest events, the annual Food and Wine Gala. So it paid to have guests see the owners and employees enjoying all the activities and amenities Jarrod Ridge had to offer right along with them.
"I think I'm losing my mojo," he grumbled.
"Nah, you just haven't had as much time as usual to play I mean, practice," she corrected with a wink.
Wasn't that the truth. In the five months since his father had passed away, Trevor had been juggling two nearly full-time jobs. Donald Jarrod's will had forced all six of his children to return to Jarrod Ridge to manage the resort or risk losing their shares in the family dynasty.
But as much as he may have been forced to take over as president of marketing for Jarrod Ridge, it certainly hadn't been a hardship for him. After running his own very successful marketing firm in downtown Aspen, the job here came almost as naturally to him as breathing.
Unfortunately, it didn't leave him a lot of time for what he loved mostthe outdoors and all the sporting activities it had to offer. In the summer, he spent nearly every minute of his free time hiking, climbing, kayaking or riding his mountain bike. In the winter, he loved to hit the slopes, usually on his skis, but occasionally snowboarding.
Nature was great, and he appreciated it as much as the next person, but for him, it was all about the adventure. The rush. There was nothing in the world like speeding down a snow-slick mountainside, dodging rocks and trees, feeling the cold sting of the wind on his face. Or jumping from a plane at thirteen thousand feet with nothing but a parachute and his own skills to break his fall.
Oh, yeah. He had to get on the ball and figure out what he was going to do about balancing his two vital positions, so he could get back to putting in normal workaholic hours and carve out a bit more time on the slopes. But until he found someone he trusted and could truly rely on to take over Jarrod Promotion and Marketing, he was just going to have to deal with it, he supposed.
"Any messages?" he asked Diana, running his fingers through his dark hair to brush away any excess moisture.
Getting to her feet, she handed him a stack of pink papers. More than he was in the mood to deal with at the moment.
"Before you go into your office " she began, only to let her words drift off, her bottom lip disappearing between her teeth as she worried it nervously.
She took a breath and met his gaze. "There's a young woman waiting for you. She's been calling, and insisted on seeing you in person. I started to turn her away, but didn't have the heart, and.well, I just thought she was someone you should deal with personally."
He frowned. Diana might be pixie-petite, but he'd seen her in protective, full linebacker mode. The woman waiting in his office must indeed be brave to have gotten past Diana. Brave, or very convincing.
"Who is she?" he asked. "A company rep wanting us to use their products to supply the Ridge, or a possible client who hasn't been able to catch me at JPM?"
Diana shrugged. "You'll have to ask her yourself. She didn't say, she was just.very determined."
With a sigh, Trevor folded the stack of messages and stuffed them in his pants pocket. "Fine. I'll take care of it."
Pulling open both of the heavy oak doors that separated his office from the reception area, he paused to take in the sweep of his office. The thick Gulistan carpeting. The unlit fireplace built of smooth river stones lining the back wall. And in the center of the room, his heavy, ornately carved desk with its lamp at one corner, computer monitor at the other and stacks of paper at the center.
But no woman in either of the guest chairs waiting to see him.
Closing the doors behind him with a click, he stepped farther inside. As the sound echoed through the room, his espresso-dark leather desk chair tipped slightly before swiveling around to reveal a lovely woman with honey-blond hair and blue eyes. On her lap, leaning back against her chest, was an infant busily chewing on his own hand.
Trevor frowned. Well. The woman was no surprise; Diana had warned him one was waiting to see him. His so-called assistant had failed to mention, however, that said woman had a child with her.
What kind of woman came to a business meeting with a baby in tow? he wondered. Even an impromptu meeting thatjudging by the way this one was startingmight not last long.
"My secretary said you needed to speak with me," he said, rounding the desk with every intention of taking her place and relegating her to one of the guest chairs.
If he'd expected her to hop up and bashfully bustle around to the other side of the desk, though, he was doomed to disappointment. She held her ground, remaining seated in his executive chairthe one he had special-ordered and waited nearly a month for it to arrive, the one that had taken another month to break in and now cushioned his body like a glove during each of the many long hours he put in here at Jarrod Manorwhile she bounced the child up and down on her knees.
"I'm Trevor Jarrod," he offered when she didn't seem eager to fill the chilly silence.
"I know who you are. I've been trying to reach you for the past two months."
Her tone was flat with a trace of annoyance threading through, but also light and extremely feminine. Lifting a hand, she swept a chunk of her straight blond hair behind one ear, revealing a single ruby-red stud that matched the knit V-neck sweater she was wearing with a pair of sleek black slacks.
The baby on her lap was dressed in blue denim overalls with an embroidered train engine on the front pocket and a shirt underneath with dozens more trains covering the white cotton. A boy, Trevor assumed, otherwise he would be looking at a little denim jumper covered in pink butterflies or some such.
As though he sensed Trevor's perusal, the baby gave a smiling gurgle and kicked his legs out in front of him.
Dragging his attention back to the woman who'd fought so hard to gain an audience with him but suddenly seemed at a loss for words, Trevor crossed his arms over his chest and lifted a brow. "And you are ?"
That brought her to her feet, shifting the child in her arms until he was perched on one hip.
How did women do that? Were they born knowing how to hold babies, change diapers and distinguish between eighteen different types of cries?
Of the six Jarrod children, Melissa and Erica were his only younger siblings. Which meant he didn't have a lot of experience with babies. Even being this close to one, with his mother right here, ready, willing and able to react to the baby's every need, made Trevor more than a bit uncomfortable.
Clearing his throat to cover the fact that he'd nearly taken a step back, away from the woman and her child, Trevor waited. She still owed him a name and an explanation for her presence, and he had work to do.
"My name is Haylie Smith."
He blinked, waiting for her to elaborate. Instead, after several long seconds ticked by, she tipped her head and let her eyes go wide, as though she'd just delivered a punch line. But he didn't get the joke.
"Haylie Smith," she said again, more firmly this time, careful to enunciate each syllable. "From Denver."
"I heard you," he murmured, fighting the twitch at the corner of his lips as they threatened to lift in an amused grin.
It wasn't often that he was treated like the slow kid in school. Very few would dare. Because while he was known to be fairly laid-back and fun-loving, even flirty at times when it came to women, he was also a Jarrod. One of the heirs to Donald Jarrod's vast fortune, and a successful entrepreneur in his own right.
He was rich, and he was powerful. And while it might take a lot to shake him from his easygoing nature, he wasn't a man other men wanted to risk pissing off.
That this strangera woman, no lessseemed to have no compunction about going nose-to-nose with him was more arousing than it should have been.
Not that she wasn't an attractive woman. At what he estimated to be about five feet four or five inches to his six-two, she was tall enough, but not too tall. She was also far from reed-thin, but nowhere near fat, either. She had curves in all the right places, pressing against the front of her sweater and filling out the hips of her slacks. The kind of figure that would feel soft and warm against his hard chest and firm thighs.
Her long, straight hair was like bottled sunshine and framed a heart-shaped face that was a fascinating mix of innocence and sensuality. The rosy bow of her mouth, the sharp, crystal-blue of her eyes, the way she held that baby with both confidence and possessiveness.
None of it should be turning him on, since he was about three seconds away from booting her out of his office, but damned if he wasn't starting to feel a telltale warmth in his blood and tightening in his gut.
Unfortunatelyor maybe fortunatelyshe didn't seem to be suffering the same physiological response to him.
"I've been calling you for the past two months," she charged impatiently. "Leaving messages that you apparently couldn't be bothered to return."
With a nod, he moved around her and took his rightful place behind his desk. "My secretary mentioned that. Although I can't understand what's so pressing if you weren't willing to leave details about why you wanted to speak with me."
Just as he'd intended, his near dismissal of her caused her to move back around to the front of his desk. She didn't sit, though, instead standing directly in front of him while she bounced her hip and wove back and forth in a calm, gentle motion he assumed was for the baby's benefit.
"Some things are better said in person. And I didn't think you would appreciate your secretary being privy to your personal business."
At that, his brows drew together and he dragged his attention from the folder on the desk in front of him to her glittering gaze.
"I'm sorry, but I've never seen or heard of you before. What kind of personal business could you possibly have with me?" He nearly scoffed, wondering if this woman might be slightly unhinged. Maybe she'd convinced herself she was yet another long-lost Jarrod heir. Or maybe she'd seen one too many photographs of him in the local and national tabloids, and had convinced herself that she was one of his many feminine conquests.
He was debating the wisdom of getting up to open the double doors again, and possibly even buzzing for hotel security, when she switched the baby from one hip to the other and began to round his desk againin the opposite direction this timewith slow, determined steps.
"You're right, you don't know me. We've never met. But a year ago, you met my sister, and from what I've heard, the two of you had a heck of a good time."
She stopped in front of him, towering over him in a manner he definitely didn't appreciate. He sat back, prepared to launch to his feet and stare her down, if necessary, but her next words glued him in place.
"And maybe if you returned a phone call once in a while, it wouldn't have taken me two months to track you down and introduce you to your son."
With that, she plopped the baby unceremoniously on his lap before leaning back to cross her arms beneath her breasts and look down at him with what could only be described as a satisfied smirk.
Haylie really shouldn't have taken so much pleasure in Trevor Jarrod's shocked reaction to her pronouncement, but she did. His eyes flashed wide, his mouth dropped open like a guppy's and his hands on either side of Bradley's pudgy little body made him look as if he were juggling a ticking time bomb instead of a four-month-old infant.
She had to give Trevor credit, though. The minute she'd plopped Bradley on his lap and stepped away, Trevor's arms had come up to balance the child on his lap and keep the baby from toppling over.
After a few seconds of dead silence, Trevor seemed to regain a bit of his equilibrium. Snapping his mouth shut, he licked his lips and pushed to his feet, holding Bradley out in front of him. Apparently sensing Trevor's discomfort and nerves, the baby's legs started to kick and his face started to scrunch up and turn red.