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To Kimmie, who helped make Montgomery, Alabama--the setting of this book--so memorable. Good luck at Vanderbilt!
At Barrett and Associates, no expense was spared for the annual Christmas party. Guests sipped on costly champagne and sampled treats created by the priciest chef in town, while enjoying the beauty of Cliff Barrett's mansion by the lake.
Alexandra, Cliff's only daughter and the decorator for the party, stood at the top of the stairs leading to the ballroom and admired the twinkling lights and festive atmosphere. Everything had gone off without a hitch this year. In fact, it almost seemed too perfect. There'd been none of the last minute plan changes that usually occurred while organizing one of her father's parties. Looking out at the smiling faces of the guests and the beautifully decorated room, Alex mentally patted herself on the back. Her work was done. Now she was allowed to mingle.
Her gaze went straight to Scott Clause, the golden boy of Barrett and Associates. Scott was a whiz kid who'd breezed through college and law school before landing himself a coveted position at her father's prestigious law firm. He was the youngest lawyer to become an associate and, in his four years as a lawyer, he had yet to lose a case. But not only was he intelligent and driven, he was also the sexiest man Alex had ever seen. She'd secretly crushed on him for years and tonight, she had decided, was the night to make her interest known. She was more than a little nervous, but determined to let him know how she felt.
Wiping her sweaty palmson a cocktail napkin, Alex started down the stairs. Scott was in the center of the room, surrounded by his usual bevy of attractive women, but that did not deter her. Tonight was going to be her night.
As she made her way across the room, cheerful voices called her name. She waved and smiled, but did not stop to speak to her father's numerous business acquaintances. If she stopped, she would spend the rest of the night caught in inane conversations--and she had something entirely different in mind. Something that required mistletoe and dark rooms.
As she drew close to Scott, she smoothed a hand across her hair. Not a curl out of place. She knew she looked her best. The red gown fit her to perfection and she'd shelled out major bucks to hire a professional hair and make-up artist. Gone were her usual glasses and tidy bun. They were replaced by green tinted contacts and an elaborate up-do. Instead of bulky wools and thick sweaters, Alex was finally showing off the body she'd spent years shaping by attending daily aerobic classes. For the first time in her life, she was using her father's money to her advantage.
Scott was discussing the win of his latest court case when Alex reached his side. Without missing a beat, he put a hand around her waist and drew her along his side as was his custom. Instead of stiffening as she always did, Alex leaned further into him. She noticed the catty expressions on some of the women's faces and struggled to keep from smiling. This was going to be a fun night.
Scott smelled good. He was wearing her favorite cologne, and the spicy scent teased her nostrils. She wondered where he sprayed it. Did he put it on before he dressed? Or did he wait and spray it on his clothes? She imagined him emerging from the shower, steam rising from his nude body as he toweled dry. Her mouth watered at the mental image.
Scott's hand tightened against her waist and drew her attention to his face. His gaze searched her body, and she could see the admiration in his eyes as he studied her new look. "How's my pretty girl?"
Her lipstick red lips parted in a smile. He always called her his pretty girl, but for the first time she felt like he meant it. "Just dandy. How are you?"
Scott smiled easily, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners and making him appear much younger than his thirty years. "Hanging in there." He bent down and whispered, for her ears alone, "Thank you for rescuing me. I've been trying to get rid of these vultures for about an hour now."
Alex drew back and gave him an amused look. "You shouldn't tempt them so by acting all sexy and available."
Scott laughed at her jab. "I suppose you're right." He noticed her empty hands. "Would you care for a drink?" He gestured for a server and ordered without her having to remind him of her favorite drink. "A Bloody Mary for the lady. No celery."
Alex widened her eyes innocently. "I'm impressed. You actually remember what I drink?"
Scott tapped his head. "Photographic memory. I remember lots of things."
Alex wondered if Scott even realized how lucky he was. He was smart, rich, successful, and a genuinely nice guy. He did have a tendency to flirt, but that was the thing she loved most about him. He made every woman around him feel desirable. You would never catch him ignoring a woman just because she wasn't as pretty or as wealthy as the other women there. Sometimes she worried that he only flirted with her because her father was his boss. But it was a known fact that her father doted on Scott, so there was no need for him to play up to the boss's daughter. Add to that his genuine disregard for most rules, and she was sure he was friends with her because he wanted to be, not just to impress her father.
Come to think of it. Where was her father?
Alex allowed her eyes to scan the ballroom until they landed on her tall, graying, but still powerful-looking, father. Cliff Barrett was holding court near the refreshment table, exchanging legal tales with his old fraternity buddies. She thanked her lucky stars at the sight. If her father was drinking with his friends, then he would be occupied with them for most of the night. Alex would be free to pursue Scott with all the seductive ploys available to her. Sadly, there were not all that many seductive ploys in her arsenal. Most of her plan hinged on her ability to maneuver Scott under the mistletoe she'd hung in her father's office. It was the closest room and the only one guaranteed not to be trespassed into by some of the guests.
The server returned with her drink and Alex accepted it gratefully. If she was going to seduce Scott, a bit of liquid courage was appreciated. As she sipped, she studied Scott over the rim of her glass. He was talking to the wife of one of the lawyers. Alex couldn't remember her name, but she was a beautiful blonde with more hair than common sense. Marley, or Harley, or some silly name like that. Alex was not typically a jealous sort, but it unnerved her to see Scott talking to another woman. She should be used to it, since he'd had more girlfriends in the past year than she had fingers and toes, but it was hard to witness him bringing a rosy flush to the married lady's cheek with his practiced words.
"If you're sure your girlfriend won't mind," Marley, or Harley, or whoever, said with a cautious glance in Alex's direction.
Whoa! Whose girlfriend? Alex's head snapped up. "Pardon?"
Scott gave her a fond look. "Alex, darling. You don't mind if I dance with Carly, do you?"
At least now she had a name to go with the face. "Of course not. It's not like we're da..."
Scott quieted her with a sharp look. Alex's mouth snapped shut. What the hell? Was Scott wanting her to pretend to be his girlfriend? He was practically playing into her hands. Turning to Carly, Alex smiled easily. "Just be sure you return him in one piece." She spoke nicely, but her eyes clearly said "Hands off, bitch. He's mine."
"Of course," Carly said, and wrapped her hands around Scott's muscular forearm. "Come, Scotty. Let's go dance."
Alex hid a smile at the look on Scott's face. He detested being called Scotty, a fact she knew since he'd once told her about a high school girlfriend who'd called him by the nickname in a sing-song voice every time she saw him. Alex took another sip of her drink and casually observed the couple on the dance floor. Carly was pressed against Scott, who was trying valiantly to dance without stepping on the trailing hem of her dress.
"Why don't you just fuck him and get it over with?"
Alex was so startled she nearly dropped her Bloody Mary. She steadied the glass and glanced at the man who'd snuck up beside her. Thomas Dyer, Carly's husband and Scott's best friend, grinned at her and winked broadly. Alex's guarded expression slowly faded. "Good Lord, Tommy. You nearly gave me a heart attack."
Tommy had been with the company for eight years. Alex had always liked the fun-loving man, although she'd held no great fondness for his last three wives. Carly was currently wife number four, so it was not surprising that Alex had difficulty remembering her name.
Tommy lifted his mug of beer and pointed toward his wife. "Looks like it's about time for a new wife."
Alex felt a burst of horrified laughter. "Tommy! You shouldn't say such things. Scott would never try anything with one of your wives."
"No," he agreed solemnly. "But that doesn't keep her from trying to get him in the sack."
"I'm sorry," Alex mumbled. She didn't know what to say. Tommy was such a nice guy, a bit outspoken perhaps, but certainly undeserving of having a wife cheat on him.
Tommy shrugged aside her concern and let his eyes drift over her body. His eyes widened with stunned surprise. "Damn, Alex. What happened to you?"
Her stomach lurched. "You don't like it?"
"Hell, yes, I like it! If your father and Scott wouldn't have my balls, I would be tempted to carry you out of here myself." He reached for her hand and made her do a little twirl. He whistled softly. "You clean up good."
"Thank you, Tommy." Alex laughed as he continued ogling. She slapped his arm playfully. "Now quit it. You're making me blush."
Alex felt an arm snake around her waist an instant before she was pulled up against a warm body. "Tommy, are you flirting with my girl?"
She recognized the deep timbre of Scott's voice and gave a delighted shiver. She rested against the hard length of him and provocatively shimmied her hips the tiniest bit. She heard the quick intake of breath Scott made and knew that her ploy had worked. His hand moved to her hip and he subtly pressured her into remaining still.
Tommy put his arm around his wife's shoulder and shook his head. "No, just keeping her entertained." He gave his wife a little squeeze. "Care to dance, sweetheart?"
Carly looked less than enthusiastic about dancing with her husband as she followed him out onto the floor. Scott's hand remained on her waist as he came around to stand in front of her. "Poor Tommy. That woman's a viper."
Alex felt bad for their mutual friend, but her concern for Tommy fled as she gazed up at Scott. She'd seen him so often that his face was as familiar as her own, but tonight it was like seeing him for the first time. His strong jaw, lightly covered with stubble, practically begged her to run her lips across it. His firm mouth, usually smiling, tempted her to lean up and kiss it. She swayed for a moment, unsure what her next move should be. Before she could decide, Scott took charge of the situation.
She moved as if in a dream. On the dance floor, Scott wrapped his strong arms around her. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder as her arms came up to encircle his neck. They moved as one, their thighs brushing with each sway of the music. She could feel his breath ruffling the hair above her ear while his hands lightly stroked her back. It was easily the most romantic dance of her life, made even more so when she felt the tickle of his lips against her ear.
"You look beautiful," he whispered.
She felt a rush of heat flood her body even as goose bumps broke out on her skin. "Thank you."
The band was playing her favorite song. As she recognized it, she laughed softly to herself. She was dancing with the best looking guy in the room to her favorite song and he'd just called her beautiful. Perfect, absolutely perfect.
Alex forgot all about the other people in the room. In her mind, it was only her and Scott. She pressed herself closer to him and abandoned her mind to the music. She should've known it was too good to last.
"Excuse me, Alexandra."
She felt a tap on her shoulder and groaned inwardly. The night had been going so perfectly. She let her arms drop from Scott's neck and turned to the caterer. "Yes, Martha?"
Martha gave her a sheepish look. "I'm sorry, but your father and his friends are requesting a bottle of brandy from the wine cellar. I tried to fetch it, but the door was locked."
"It's alright, Martha. I forgot to unlock the door earlier. I left the key in my bedroom. I'll go upstairs and fetch it for you." As the caterer hurried away, Alex turned back to Scott. "I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it. I feel like taking a breather anyway. Would you like some company?"
"Sure." Inside her chest, her heart began beating triple time. He was escorting her to her bedroom? Things were turning out even better than she'd planned. She'd hoped to get him alone in her father's office. Being alone with Scott in her bedroom was infinitely better.
As soon as they were out of the ballroom, Scott began patting his pockets. She smiled at the action. "Nicotine fit?" she teased.
Scott sent her a wry glance as he pulled out his pack of cigarettes and lit up. "I'm going to quit."
She lifted an eyebrow. "I've heard that before."
Scott took a long drag and blew the smoke away from her. "Want one?" His dark eyes tempted her to give in as he held the pack toward her. She bit her lip and cast an anxious glance back toward the ballroom. Her father would kill her if he ever learned of her secret habit, but she was craving one mightily.
"Just one," she said, and filched a cigarette. Scott cupped his hand around his lighter and brought it close to her face. She touched his hand with her fingers and leaned in. As the smoke filled her lungs, she sighed with pleasure. "Do you know this is the first cigarette I've had in days?"
Scott blew another trail of smoke toward the ceiling. "Feels good, doesn't it?"
Alex took another puff and nodded. She glanced nervously over her shoulder, expecting her father to pop out and catch her any moment. Scott laughed and tweaked her nose. "You're a grown woman, Alex. Your father's not going to spank you if he catches you smoking."
"I don't want to disappoint him."
"You're not a disappointment," Scott replied. "He should be proud to have a daughter like you. You're beautiful, kind, and the best party organizer I know."
She laughed at his praise. "You forgot sexy, classy, and unforgettable."
"Those, too," he said with a quick nod. "You know I adore you, so stop fishing for compliments."
It was amazing the way words just tumbled from his lips. He could stop her heart with the barest of ease. They'd reached the top of the stairs and he'd turned right without asking for directions to her room.
"Do you even know where you are going?"
He turned back to her, the dim lighting slashing across his handsome face. "Of course I do."
She hurried to catch up with him. "How?"
He smiled unabashedly. "I'm staying next door to you. Earlier, while you were taking a nap, I thought your room was mine and accidentally walked in on you."
"Oh." He'd been in her room and she hadn't sensed it? Damn, what rotten luck. "At least I wasn't naked," she teased lightly.
He smiled wolfishly. "More's the pity."
He stayed near the door as she searched for the key to the wine cellar. She finally found it in a stack of papers on her desk and held it up triumphantly. "Found it." She started back toward him, but then remembered the smoke on her breath. "Wait just a moment. I've got to brush my teeth."
She tossed him the key and headed to the bathroom. He followed at a leisurely pace and she saw his reflection in the mirror. He caught her eye and shook his head sorrowfully. "You worry too much about what others think."
"I do not," she mumbled, around the toothbrush in her mouth. A speck of toothpaste landed on her chin and she wiped it away with her fingers.
Scott came into the room and propped his hip on the counter beside her. She felt self-conscious brushing her teeth in front of him, but he didn't seem to mind watching her. "Yes, you do." His hand lightly brushed her elbow. "It would be fun to see you let your hair down once in a while."
She bent down and spit, in as ladylike a manner as she could, into the sink. "Literally or figuratively?" she asked, as she came back up and continued brushing.
"Both," he answered. He inched over and she nearly flew out of her skin when his hand came up to touch her chin. "You had a spot of paste," he explained, as his hand dropped back to his side.
"Thank you." Once again she bent down to spit. She rinsed and dried her mouth on a towel. When her lips were dry, she ran her tongue across her teeth and smiled. "All clean."
His eyes dropped to her mouth and she stilled at the flash of heat that appeared in their dark depths. Her tongue flicked out to lick the corner of her mouth and she could've sworn he groaned. She wasn't bold enough to hold his gaze. Dropping her eyes from his, she pulled her make-up case forward and rummaged around for her lipstick. She opened it and peered in the mirror as she applied it. Her eyes flicked to Scott, who was watching her with a disturbing intensity. Smiling, she held out the tube. "Want some?"
He took the tube from her hands and dropped it onto the counter. It clattered as it fell into the sink. Scott grabbed her hand and slowly pulled her forward. She sank into a dreamlike state as he lowered his head. He was going to kiss her! Scott Clause was actually about to kiss her. She leaned into the kiss, letting out a small sigh when his lips finally touched hers. He pulled away almost instantly. "I'm sorry."
She backed away from him, embarrassed by his change of mind. "I'm sorry, too."
Scott put his hands on her shoulders and tugged her toward the door. "I'm not sorry for kissing you, Alex. I'm sorry for not picking a more romantic spot."
"Oh," she muttered numbly. More romantic spot? The bathroom was fine with her. Hell, a kitchen counter would do nicely. Anything, as long as he continued to kiss her. "Where did you have in mind?"
He turned back to her, a grin playing about the edges of his lips. "I'll let you know when I find it."