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"Courtney, I have two words. Washboard. Abs," My colleague Fawn hissed in my ear as we walked down the hall toward the private entrance to the company conference room. "This talent agent is hotter than most of the A-list actors he represents."
I worked as a financial researcher at one of the most prestigious private wealth management firms in Los Angeles, but the chat around the watercooler was probably the same as in any other office. We drooled over hot guys as much as the girls working the counter at the local In-N-Out Burger. We just saved the ogling for behind closed doors. Like now.
"Really? Did you want to brief me on the prospective client then?" I asked, pausing outside the conference space to wave a file folder under her nose. I had worked hard to compile the background details on this potential client's financial picture so Fawn could go into her meeting prepared. "I forgot to include the latest report from TMZ in my research notes, so maybe you know more about this guy than me."
Frowning, the fastest-rising account executive at Sphere Asset Management poked me in the arm with the cap of her pen.
"Wise ass." Fawn shook her hair for the third time in the last two minutes, a needless habit she had for making sure every golden tress was in place. But she was the head of the team that had put together Trey Fraser's financial profile, giving a face to the anonymous underlings who actually did more of the grunt work in financial analysis. With her taupe pantsuit elegantly draping her slim, toned physique, she turned heads everywhere she wentno easy feat in Hollywood, land of the beautiful. "I know the basics about his assets. I can close this deal with my eyes shut. But if there's a chance Trey Fraser is not seeing anyone, I'm going to make my move."
I liked Fawn. Really, I did. She was a brilliant market analyst and down-to-earth enough to hang out with the support staffers like me, a behind-the-scenes researcher for the big shots in the company. But since she was a great example of the universe blessing some people with way too much, she made the more insecure women of the world feel a bit lacking.
For example, I would never dream of making a play for Trey Fraser, Hollywood royalty and son of the most famous independent producer of the last decade. All of our clients were high-net-worth individuals, but Trey was in a different class with a healthy dose of fame and personal magnetism in the mix. So I couldn't help but be a little contrary as I heard our receptionist show the client into the meeting room on the other side of the sleek cherry door.
"You can't flirt with clients," I warned Fawn. "Let alone date them." The rules were strict at Sphere.
"Are you kidding me?" Fawn smoothed the front of her suit jacket and pinched some color into her cheeks in a trick I'd seen Scarlett O'Hara perform once onscreen. "Scoring with a guy like Trey is worth leaving the company. Wealth management firms are a dime a dozen in L.A. Men like that, on the other hand, are rare."
It took an effort not to roll my eyes. "Easy for you to say when you've got headhunters calling you every week."
And even though I'd always been great at my job, I'd never had those kinds of opportunities. Face-to-face interviews were a unique brand of torture for me. I would be researching investment portfolio options and computing potential stock returns for our clients for the rest of my career.
Fawn winked before she opened the door, totally unruffled. Normally, I would have scurried right back to my office since speaking with clients was definitely not my thing, even though, technically, I could have sat in on the meeting. I usually took a behind-the-scenes approach, even if I had made some strides toward greater self-confidence after discovering some aptitude for dancing this year. But I was curious about our visitor.
Besides, who would notice me standing in the shadows when our star asset advisor walked in to take her seat at the head of that polished mahogany table? I probably wouldn't have any chance to glimpse Trey Fraser's touted washboard abs. But sometimes even those of us who had grown up surrounded by celebrities had our moments of rubbernecking with the really big names.
And frankly, as someone interested in business and finance, I was more curious about a mogul-inthe-making like Trey than I would have been about a flavor-of-the-week movie star. Even though he had taken some serious flack in the media for the lawsuit he was rumored to have in the works against his famous father, who'd been Trey's former employer before Trey had opened the talent agency.
So, walking through the open door, I helped myself to a tiny peek from under bangs so long the tips touched my lashes.
I expected a big group would be accompanying him, but there was only one man waiting for Fawn as she walked in. Tall and slim-hipped, he wore a black suit with a black dress shirt open at the collar. He would have appeared vaguely dangerous with high cheekbones, angular features and dark eyes. But when he smiled, his whole face changed, his eyes crinkling into familiar lines at the corners. He looked a bit Mediterranean, and I remembered some old scuttlebutt that his mother was an Italian actress whom his famous father seduced when she was barely legal.
Trey Fraser was only thirtyish, but he was handsome in that George Clooney, gorgeous-even-when-he'd-be-eighty way. No wonder Fawn had been fluffing her hair and pinching her cheeks.
"Hi," he said suddenly, turning toward me. "I'm Trey Fraser."
I'd been spotted.
He stalked toward me, hand extended as if to draw me into the room. Heart pounding and feet sticking to the floor, I froze in disbelief that he'd seen through the camouflage my long bangs usually provided. Along with my poorly fitting suit, which I wore with running shoes since I never met with clients.
Who noticed Courtney Masterson when Fawn was around?
"H-h-hi," I managed, though my stuttered greeting was so quiet he might not have heard.
Damn it. Hadn't I conquered the speech impediment?
His hand enveloped mine with a warm squeeze while I sought any excuse to leave. Out of your league! my brain shouted at me. Retreat!
The moment in which our hands clasped probably only lasted a fraction of a second. But since I'd never been that close to a certified hunk, let alone touched one, I took in every last detail from the clean scent of his faint aftershave to the way his hair swooped in a wave over his forehead.
"Courtney?" Fawn said from behind him, sounding puzzled. "Would you like to join us?"
Of course not. I didn't make a habit of sitting in on client meetings, even though as a financial researcher I had more knowledge about the person's assets than anyone on staff. But saying as much meant risking another mortifying stutter-fest.
Why had I decided to play Peeping Tom today?
"Come on in," Trey said, stepping out of the doorway to gesture me inside.
It'd be impolite to utter something like "No freaking way" in front of a customer. So I did the next-best thing.
I spun around and fled the scene, my tennis shoes making quick work of the hallway as I dashed into my office and shut the door behind me.
Was I a little shy? Duh. It had started with the childhood stutter, continued with a mom who was embarrassed by me and snowballed into an insecurity with a life of its own. Going near a Hollywood hottie wasfor a girl like mejust plain stupid. Moth to a flame and all that. I think my wings were already singed.
But I was working hard to overcome the shyness.
I'd never get close to the Trey Frasers of the world, though he was seriously hot and would probably fuel my private fantasies for a long time. Instead, I was working on another approach to my issues and making baby steps toward conquering those self-doubting demons in my head.
In fact, I needed a dose of that heady medicine right now before my heart pounded out of my chest. So I grabbed my gym bag from under the desk, and checking to be sure the hallway was clear, headed out the back door. I would indulge in the latest fitness craze, which had slowly turned into my one source of real physical confidence in the past year.
I'd learned that there was nothing like a little pole dancing to bring out the tigress in any woman.
Nice girls ran from him.
As he sat through his meeting at Sphere Asset Management, Trey Fraser couldn't stop thinking about the brunette who'd fled from his presence earlier.
He tried to listen to her colleague as she walked him through the nuances of interest allocation, but he kept seeing a pair of darting gray eyes that looked anywhere but at him. He told himself it didn't matter, since he had no time for women in his life right now, anyway. His father had thwarted him professionally last winter, and Trey would have his hands full for the next few years just trying to prove to the world that he was a different kind of mana man of his word. Tough to do when they were both in the film industry and his fatherThomas Fraser IIhad a hell of a lot of clout.
Still, it frustrated Trey that his ongoing and very public rift with his dad had made the kind of headlines that sent Pretty Gray Eyes running. Courtney, he recalled. He'd been deemed the most ungrateful son in Hollywood history for even considering a lawsuit against his father for breach of contract. He'd been dubbed "Mr. Entitled" in industry papers and the mainstream press hadn't painted him much better. Didn't they realize that the only reason his father threw up one roadblock after another in Trey's career was to make sure success never came too easily? As a self-made man, Thomas insisted that obstacles made a person stronger. Tougher.
So he considered it his parental duty to be sure Trey encountered plenty, even when they bordered on illegal. But while Trey was trying to salvage a career, his charismatic father ate up the media attention.
"How does that sound, Mr. Fraser?" A flirtatious feminine voice intruded on his thoughts, calling him back to the meeting.
Crap. He'd completely zoned out of the interest allocation discussion. The financial adviserFawn Barrowsstared at him like she was sizing him up for her next meal. Clearly, his bad press hadn't scared her off, but then again, she had a cutthroat business vibe that Trey's dad would admire. Trey, for his part, was still mortified over the bad press that had followed his most recent altercation with Thomas at a highend restaurant. Stupid of him to think his pops would respect basic social conventions and not confront him in public.
"Fine." He stacked up the paperwork for Sphere Asset Management's proposal. "I'll think it over and get back to you."
He had to lock down some financial advice to be sure his start-up company was protected from his former business dealings with his dad. Too bad he couldn't have discussed his needs with Courtney instead. She'd had an honest face at a time in his life when he seemed to have a target painted on his back. Something about her had reached past the laser-focus he'd brought to his work over the last six months.
"Are you sure?" Fawn's lips pulled together in a way that looked dangerously close to a pout for a professional businesswoman. But she turned her attention to the file folder in front of her. "If you move forward with the lawsuit to sue your father's company for breach of contract"
"I have not filed a lawsuit." He couldn't help the rumors, though. He'd allowed himself to get too comfortable working under his father's banner, thinking he could simply make movies. He hadn't anticipated how many ways he and his father would butt heads. "Those rumors are pure media speculation."
Although the gossip certainly gave him reason to think he would have a case. Thomas Fraser had not been an easy man to work for, but Trey had been willing to put up with his old man's constant lecturing and life lessons as long as he could make a film his way. But Trey's emotionally complex, low-budget movie had turned into one long product placement shot, complete with corporate sponsors. Actors were axed without consulting him, replaced with bankable stars. When Trey balked, the whole project was shut down and he was left without a joba fact he'd discovered when the locks on his office were changed.
Worse, he'd let his temper get the better of him in a recent showdown with his dad, which only contributed to Trey's reputation as someone tough to work with. Guess there had been a life lesson in there, after all. Don't mix work and family.
"But if he comes after you, shouldn't we ensure your assets are protected?"
Trey hoped it wouldn't come to that. "Precisely why I've set up this meeting, Ms. Barrows, but I'm not ready to commit at this time."
"Perhaps if I understood your business goals better, I could make some specific recommendations for investments." This woman wasn't giving up. She stuck her nose in the file folder on the table once more. "I'm unclear about this second start-up company mentioned in my notes. Won't you need all your liquid assets available to support another business?"
"Who told you I have a second company in the works?" He'd kept that information secure for months in a town that loved to sniff out a secret.
Fawn smiled as she folded manicured fingers together. "Our client research is excellent here."
"You misunderstand." Anger tightened his jaw. How many other people knew about his intentions to expand his small talent agency and start up his own film production company to go head-to-head with his father? "No one is supposed to have access to that information."
Her smile slipped. "I'm just reading what's in the file."
"Who did the research?"
"One of our financial researchers. Courtney." She stood, apparently beginning to understand that he was not a happy customer. "I'll go ask her about this."
Trey got up to follow, surprised the reticent brunette had dug up the pay dirt that could damage his plans. "I'd like to speak to her directly."
"Of course." Fawn indicated the door she'd shut earlier, the same one that Courtney had stood in half an hour ago. "Her desk is back here."
They walked past lavish offices full of mahogany bookshelves and sleek bronze awards on the walls, then turned down a hallway toward more simple workspaces. Here, computers and stacks of papers balanced on smaller, functional desks. Fawn Barrows paused in front of an open door with a brass nameplate beside it.
"I'm afraid we missed her," Fawn announced after peeking behind the door at an empty chair. "It looks like she took her bag, so I'm guessing she's gone for the day."
On the verge of demanding the woman be contacted via cell phone or text, Trey thought better of it.
"Fine," he said tightly. "But I want to speak to her at her earliest convenience."
Shoving an extra business card into the woman's hand, he turned to leave.
"Thank you for your time, Ms. Barrows." Trey couldn't afford to waste another minute at Sphere.
He had a client who needed some hand-holding tonightan actor whose nice-guy image would benefit from some tarnishing to get him the kind of multilayered parts his skills warranted. And at Trey's agency, that meant Trey himself would be out on the town to make sure the deed was done.
After all, he wanted every one of his current clients working by the time Phase Two of his business plan got underway. A phase that might very well have been compromised by the research skills of one gray-eyed female he'd obviously underestimated.