Read an Excerpt
Merger to Marriage
One Hot Night Led to a Surprise for Everyone ...
By Addison Fox, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Frances Karkosak
All rights reserved.
New York City, Present Day
Mayson McBride stared at the lovely red wine stain that spread across the front of her champagne-colored bridesmaid gown and wondered why the hell it couldn't have been the other way around.
"Why did it have to be that delicious Bordeaux?" she muttered to herself as she slipped out of her ruined dress. The guests at her sister's wedding reception had already lined up at the bar for glasses of the thousand-dollar treasure, and she was going to miss whatever was left in the time it took to change her clothes in her hotel room five floors up.
With a quick shimmy out of the now-ruined slip that bore the same stain as the bridesmaid dress, she suited up in the silk sheath she'd thought to stow in her bag. The designer had given her the dress after she covered his photo shoot the previous month and she'd been in love with it ever since. The simple lines of the dark indigo dress belied the real genius in the design. The silk clung to her figure like a lover, yet hid any areas she'd prefer the eye skimmed over.
She glanced in the mirror to confirm her chignon was still in place with its iron-clad application of hairspray and then she was on her way. Maybe she'd still get a glass of the Bordeaux if she hurried.
The sounds of the wedding got louder as she stepped off the elevator and clicked down the marble hallway in her heels. Her sister, Keira, had already declared she wasn't doing anything as traditional as a bouquet toss, but Mayson was looking forward to the distribution of roses that every woman would get after the cake was cut, and she hoped she hadn't missed it.
As if on cue, the doors flung wide as she approached. A harried florist, his arms full of blooms, let out a string of curses that would quell even the most well-spoken sailor. Mayson stumbled backward to keep her footing and avoid getting slammed with the heavy ballroom door.
Her maneuver had almost worked when her second foot came down hard on the marble and her ankle twisted, shooting the spiky heel out from underneath her. A string of curses of her own came barreling out of her mouth, her arms flapping while she tried to catch her balance. The loud oomph that hit her ears was the last thing she expected as a hard chest pressed against her back and a tuxedo-clad sleeve wrapped around her.
"You okay?" The heavy voice floated over her, the tones distinctly cultured and cold.
Her racing pulse didn't slow, nor did the arm wrapped around her body release her. A slight warmth flooded her belly, the opposite of what she should be feeling locked in a stranger's embrace. She struggled to get some distance. The effort was to no avail, her heels clicking against the floor as she attempted to right herself.
"You're fine?" The words were lower than the last spoken, and she caught another distinct note layered over the cool refinement.
"You think this is funny?" She stilled, that slight edge of humor stopping her more effectively than anything could have.
"I think you're moving like there's a fire somewhere and now you're paying for it."
"I wanted to get back to the wedding."
"So you thought it made sense to run through the lobby on those stilts? Not that I can argue with their effect on your legs."
"I didn't want to miss the Bordeaux. And why else would I bother wearing them?"
"So Nathan went ahead with it."
She puzzled at the rapid change of pace and the loss of warmth as the arm that banded her loosened. Mayson turned the moment she was free, and the impression of strength and quiet attractiveness she'd glimpsed from the edge of his profile hit her with a harder punch.
Oh, he was more than attractive, with a ready smile and hazel eyes that were an unexpected and intriguing contrast to his lighter hair. The broad chest she'd felt layered against her back boasted an even broader set of shoulders above it, and every inch of his tuxedo-clad frame had an aura of power and confidence, the exact opposite of what she usually went for.
And how's that working out for ya, McBride? Her conscience piped up, clearly displeased with her mental attempt to brush off her quick attraction.
"I stand corrected. I'd rush for that wine, too. I'm not sure I'd have left the ballroom."
"So what are you doing out here?"
"I had a meeting that ran over." A hint of merriment hit those hazel eyes, morphing them to an enticing shade of green as he stood there with his hands behind his back, rocking slightly on his heels. The move was impish and all-together too appealing. "And I'm late for the wedding."
"Business meeting on a Saturday? How many kinds of jerk is your boss?"
"I can be an incredible jerk, but today's meeting was, unfortunately, necessary."
* * *
Holt Turner tried to douse the interest that had gripped him the moment this luscious package of adorable fell into his arms, and knew he was about to fail miserably. Who was this woman? Since she was at the wedding, she was a part of Nathan and Keira's social circle. How had he never met her before?
Her eyes widened at the realization of her insult, and a light blush crept up her cheeks. "I'm sorry."
"You can apologize by having a drink with me." He moved his hands from behind his back, producing a bottle of the luscious Bordeaux she'd been rushing back to the ballroom for. "Maybe this will change your mind?"
Her mouth dropped. "Where did you get that?"
"I have my ways."
"You stole it?"
"No, I didn't steal it." He was surprised at how quickly the words chaffed and tamped down on the annoyance that nearly spilled forth to ruin the moment. She'd made a joke, nothing more. And he hadn't needed to steal for a long time.
"Where'd you get it?"
"Since I'm the one who gave it to Nathan and Keira as a wedding present, Nathan thought it only fitting some was kept aside for my enjoyment."
He saw her eyes widen and marveled at the innocence there. Most women — certainly the ones who knew the value of the Bordeaux as she obviously did — would have begun seeing dollar signs. Instead, a warm glow lit up her face, from her dark, expressive eyes to her broad smile. "That's an incredibly lovely and generous gift."
"I'm happy for them, and it was my pleasure." The large lobby had various seating options, many hidden away in private spaces for quiet conversations. Holt gestured toward one of them and enjoyed watching the light sway of her hips as she moved toward a plush seat.
"Do I at least get a name?"
"I'm not sure. I'm still a bit wounded by your snap judgment of me and my heels." A light veneer of amusement flickered across her features. "Maybe when I know you better."
"Isn't a name part of the process of getting to know someone better?"
"Share that bottle and I'll consider it."
Holt snagged the attention of a bellman and requested glasses and his services to open the wine. As they waited, he took the opportunity to really look at her.
"Are you here with anyone?"
"Do you mean like a date?"
"The question was a bit more general than that, but yes. A date, or anyone else for that matter. A friend? A sibling?"
"I'm here with my family."
"Aren't they going to wonder where you got to?"
"They'll be fine."
When that line of questioning turned up no further information, he took a new angle, curious to know more about her. "So you clearly have a low opinion of business meetings."
"They're a necessary evil."
"Which either means you sit through a lot of them or deliberately chose a profession without any."
"A lot. Definitely a lot."
"Ah." He pointed toward her feet. "That explains your speed on those heels."
He didn't miss the wry tilt to her lips when she spoke again. "The speed is a side benefit of a frenetic personality. The quality of the heels, however, is a side benefit of all those meetings I hate going to."
"You're a career woman?"
The smile vanished, her features darkening, and it was obvious he'd hit a nerve. "I don't like categories like that. It diminishes someone's value. Puts them in a box."
Holt couldn't argue with her assessment, but he was curious to know why she thought so. "We're bombarded with messages and images all day long. Categories help us put things in their place. Figure out our world. It's not a bad thing."
"No, but it's not the easiest way to get to know someone."
"So we are going to get to know each other?"
The question hung between them as the bellhop returned with their wine. Holt took the glasses and open bottle from the man, and gave him a quick tip. The bellhop's jaunty step as he walked away ensured he'd give them their privacy, yet keep an eye should they need anything else. Just the way Holt preferred it.
He poured two glasses of the rich red and handed one to the woman as he swirled his own glass. She did the same, a soft sigh escaping her lips.
"What's that for?"
"The wine. It's so simple. So easy."
"I'd say it's incredibly complex."
"Exactly!" She held up her glass, swirling it once more. "It is deeply complex, yet what you see is what you get. It's a rich promise that never disappoints. People can be the same way."
Holt leaned forward and clinked his glass against hers. "To simple complexity." Before she could offer her own toast, he added to the toast. "And sharing a complex yet simple glass of wine with an exquisitely beautiful woman."
She was unexpected. Rare. And his interest raised another notch, deepening in the light of her dark gaze.
"We were interrupted. Why don't you like categories?"
That dark gaze dropped, and Holt couldn't help thinking she hid secrets behind those eyes. But it was when she looked up again that he was charmed by the intensity he saw reflected back at him.
"I think the human experience is far richer than people often give it credit for. And those boxes we like to drop people into? Well, they're boxes of our own making, not a true reflection of that other person."
"No one can really know everything about another person."
"Which is why we shouldn't categorize them or assume we really know them. We don't. We know what we think we know about them."
"You feel quite passionately about this?"
"Let's say a lifetime of being put in a box of someone else's making grew rather tight and restrictive."
The prim set of her shoulders and the long legs delicately crossed at the ankles drew him, the proverbial moth to flame. There was depth here, and far more than a pretty face. While he'd never spent much time analyzing or worrying over his dates, the fact that he was now faced with a woman who had layers and thoughts and opinions had him immediately intrigued. And interested far more quickly than he normally would be.
"I have no interest in putting a label on you, but I do have an interest in getting to know you better."
"I'd like that."
"Perhaps we can start with a name?"
She hesitated for the briefest moment before she spoke. "Elizabeth."
"Lovely to meet you, Elizabeth." He extended his hand. "I'm Holt."
"You, too. Holt." His name hovered on her lips as she slid her hand into his, her voice husky and deep from the wine.
He held her hand a moment longer than necessary before releasing it and picking up his glass. "We've spent a lot of time talking about work. Or dancing around it. What do you do for fun?"
Light flooded her features, filling her gaze with delight. "I have a charity I'm involved in that I love."
"What do you do for them?"
"I work with special-needs children at a camp upstate. It's called Hands, Hearts and Hugs."
"What sort of work is it?"
"The program is about creating opportunity. Many of these children haven't been given much chance in life, either due to poverty issues or abandonment. The organization provides housing and healthcare services where needed, along with programs to educate and help these children find work as they grow into adulthood."
She knew the quality of the wine, and she was attending one of the weddings of the year, so she clearly knew her way around wealth and privilege. But her excitement about the children she worked for displayed a quality he hadn't seen in many women of his acquaintance.
"It sounds pretty amazing."
"It is." She smiled, obviously warming to her subject. "The engagement these kids have with the world is incredible. They don't see labels. They see the person inside."
"How long have you worked with them?"
"About three years now. We're trying to get their facility expanded and have hit a bit of a snag, but we'll find a way around it."
"I think I'm starting to get a picture of you."
"Oh?" She cocked her head, a mischievous smile playing around her eyes and lips. "Have I put you off the career-woman-with-attitude impression?"
"I think career woman is far too simple a description. You're like this wine." He held up his glass but kept his gaze firmly locked on hers. "Beautifully complex. You're also full of bright, vivid colors. You embrace the world, pulling it in close and putting your own personal stamp on it."
"That might be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."
"I mean every word." He leaned forward, unable to tear his gaze from her. Sexual awareness sparked between them like a live wire. He felt it — reveled in it — even as he realized there was something more.
He certainly didn't disrespect the women of his acquaintance — and all knew full-well where he stood on anything permanent — but no one he'd met before inspired such an immediate wash of interest and need. Yes, she was attractive. Devastatingly so, but it was something more.
"Why don't you ask me to accompany you upstairs, Holt?" Her voice was just like that live wire he'd thought of, and it sparked through his bloodstream like a fire.
"What's upstairs?" He wanted her, wanted the invitation implied in her words, but needed to give her a final opportunity to say no.
"A more private place to continue our conversation."
* * *
The ride in the elevator had been quiet, but anticipation hummed between them with a loud, nearly-audible throb. He felt it in his veins, and knew Elizabeth's pulse pounded as heavy as his. Could feel it where he ran a thumb over her wrist, just beneath their joined hands. Need pounded, dark and heavy in his veins, the anticipation of what would come almost painful in its intensity. God, how he wanted this woman.
She stepped off the elevator before him, and again he was captivated by the gentle sway of her hips as she strode toward her door.
"Don't you live in New York?"
"I do." She glanced back over her shoulder as she keyed in her room card. "But I thought it would be easier to get a room for the evening and enjoy the party as late as I wanted to."
"Here's to practicality." He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her neck, the soft spot beneath her hairline beckoning him like a lodestone. A light sigh drifted up from her lips and Holt reached around her to open the door as the unlock light blinked green. "After you."
She drifted through the doorway and turned toward him, her arms reaching for his neck. Holt pulled her close as the heavy door swung closed behind them. His fingers found purchase in the soft silk at her waist and he moved one hand to settle along the slim column of her spine. "Are you sure about this?"
"Mm, yes, very sure," she whispered before pressing her lips to his. When she showed no concern about taking things further between them, he relaxed, pulling her close.
He deepened the kiss, more than encouraged by her eager response. Seeking a moment of clarity, he lifted his head while locking his gaze with hers. He ran soft fingers over the exposed skin of her upper arms and wondered at the subtle sense of panic, throbbing in counter-point to his aching body.
"Holt?" Questions filled her eyes and, unwilling to let them take the form of words, he leaned forward and captured her lips once more, ignoring whatever warning bells his subconscious was intent on ringing.
He ran his hands over her long, slender form, reveling in the subtle strength of her. Long and lean, her body was a graceful mix of athletic curves and feminine beauty.
Excerpted from Merger to Marriage by Addison Fox, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2013 Frances Karkosak. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.