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Finn McKenna wanted one thing.
And she was standing fifteen feet away, completely unaware of what he was about to do and definitely not expecting the question he wanted to ask her. He watched the womantall, blonde, leggy, the kind any man in his right mind could imagine taking to dinner, twirling around a dance floor, holding close at the end of the nightand hoped like hell his plan worked.
If he was his grandfather, he'd have been toting the McKenna four-leaf clover in his pocket, knocking three times on the banister and whispering a prayer to the Lord above. Finn McKenna's ancestors were nothing if not superstitious. Finn, on the other hand, believed in the kind of luck fostered by good research and hard work. Not the kind brought about by leprechauns and rainbows.
He'd put enough time into this project, that was for sure. Turned the idea left, right and upside down in his head. Done his research, twice over. In short, reassured himself as much as one man could that the lady he was going to talk to would say..
Finn turned and shrugged at his little brother. Riley McKenna had the same dark brown hair and sky-blue eyes as the rest of the McKenna boys, but something about Riley, maybe his grin or his devil-may-care attitude, gave those same features a little spin of dashing. Finn had inherited the serious, hard lines of his workaholic father, where Riley had more of their free-spirited mother's twinkle. "I'm not crazy, Riley. It's business. Risks are part of the job."
"Here." Riley handed him a glass. "I talked the bartender into pouring you and me some good quality Irish ale."
"Thanks." Finn sipped at the dark brew. It slid down his throat with smooth, almost spicy notes. The beer was dry, yet robust, the kind that promised a memorable drink in a single pint. A thick head of foam on top indicated the quality of the ale. Good choice on Riley's part, but Finn wasn't surprised. His little brother knew his brews.
All around him, people mingled and networked over several-hundred-dollar-a-bottle wines and martinis with names so fancy they needed their own dictionary. In this crowd, a beer stuck out like a dandelion in a field of manicured roses, but Finn McKenna had never been one to worry much about breaking the rules or caring what other people thought about him. It was what had fueled his success.
And had also been a part of his recent failure.
A temporary state, he reminded himself. Tonight, he was going to change all of that. He was going to rebuild his business and he was going to use Ellie Winston, interim CEO of WW Architectural Design, to help him do it.
She just didn't know it yet.
Eleanor Winston, known by those close to her as "Ellie," the new boss of WW, her father's company.
Henry Winston Sr., one of the two Ws in the company name, had retired suddenly a couple weeks ago. Rumor was he'd had a major heart attack and would probably not return to the chair. The other W, his brother, had walked out in a family dispute eleven years prior, but his name remained on the masthead.
Finn ticked off what he knew about Eleanor Winston in his head. Twenty-nine, with a master's in design from a reputable college, three years working at a firm in Atlanta before moving to Boston shortly after her father's illness. Her design work was primarily in residential housingthe McMansions much maligned by the architectural worldand Finn had heard she was none too pleased to be spending her days designing hospitals and office supertowers. All the more reason for her to accept his offer with gratitude. He'd scoped out his competition for several weeks before deciding WW Architects was the best choice. A fledgling president, overseeing a sprawling company with multiple projects going at any given timesurely she wanted a helping hand. Yes, that's what he'd call it. A helping hand. A win-win for her and him.
"So this is your grand plan? Talking to Ellie Winston? Here? Now?" Riley asked. "With you dressed like that?"
Finn glanced down at his dark gray pinstripe suit, crisp white shirt and navy blue tie. "What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?"
"Hey, nothing, if you're heading to a funeral." Riley patted his own shirt, as usual unbuttoned at the neck and devoid of a tie. "Make a statement, Finn. Get your sexy on."
Finn shook off that advice. Riley was the more colorful McKenna brother, the one who always stood out in a crowd. Finn preferred his appearance neat, trim and professionalthe same way he conducted business. Nothing too flashy, nothing too exciting.
"This is the perfect environment," Finn said, nodding toward the woman. "She's relaxed, maybe had a couple glasses of wine, and best of all" he turned to his brother "not expecting the offer I'm about to make."
Riley chuckled. "Oh, I think that's guaranteed."
Finn's gaze centered on Ellie Winston again. She laughed at something the guy beside her said. A full-throated laugh, her head thrown back, her deep green eyes dancing with merriment. Every time he'd seen her, she'd been like thatso open, so exuberant. Something dark and deep stirred in Finn's gut, and for a split second he envied the man at her side. Wondered what it would be like to be caught in that spell. To be the one making her laugh and smile like that.
Damn, she was beautiful. Intriguing.
And a distraction, he told himself. One he couldn't afford. Hadn't he already learned that lesson from one painful mistake after another?
"A woman like that.." Riley shook his head. "I don't think hardball is the right way to play it, Hawk."
"I hate when you call me that."
"Hey, if the nickname fits." Riley grinned. "You, big brother, spy the weak, pluck them up and use them to feather your nest." He put a hand on Finn's shoulder. "But in the nicest way possible. Of course."
"Oh, yeah, of course." A magazine had dubbed Finn "the Hawk" a few years ago when he'd done a surprise buyout of his closest competitor. Then six months later, his next closest competitor. He'd absorbed the other businesses into his own, becoming one of the largest architectural firms in New England. At least for a while. Until his ex-girlfriend's betrayal had reduced his company to half its size, taking his reputation down at the same time.
Now he'd slipped in the rankings, not even powerful enough to make any lists anymore. Or to merit any other nickname other than "Failure."
But not for long.
A waitress came by with a tray of crudites and offered some to Finn and Riley. Finn waved off the food, but Riley picked up a smoked salmon-topped cucumber slice and shot the waitress a grin. "Are these as delicious as you are beautiful?"
A flush filled her face and she smiled. "You'll have to try one to see."
He popped it in his mouth, chewed and swallowed. Then shot her an even bigger grin. "The appetizer is definitely a winner."
The waitress cocked her hip and gave him another, sassier smile. "Perhaps you should try the other, too." Then she turned on her heel and headed for the next group.
"Perhaps I will," Riley said, watching her sashay through the crowd.
Finn rolled his eyes. Keeping Riley focused on the subject at hand sometimes required superhuman abilities. "Do you ever think about anything other than women?"
"Do you ever think about anything other than business?" Riley countered.
"I'm the owner, Riley. I don't have a choice but to keep my eye on the ball and my focus on the company." He'd had a time where he'd focused on a relationshipand that had cost him dearly. Never again.
"There's always a choice, Finn." Riley grinned. "I prefer the ones that end with a woman like that in my bed, and a smile on my face." He arched a brow in the direction of the waitress, who shot him a flirtatious smile back. "A woman like that one."
"You're a dog."
Riley shrugged off the teasing. His playboy tendencies had been well documented by the Boston media. As the youngest McKenna, getting away with murder had been his middle name almost since birth. Funny how stereotypical the three boys had turned out. Finn, the eldest, the responsible one, working since he was thirteen. Brody, the middle brother, the peacemaker, who worked a respectable, steady job as a family physician. And then Riley, the youngest, and thus overindulged by their mother, and later, by their grandmother, who still doted on the "baby" of the family. Riley had turned being a wild child into a sport and managed to live a life almost entirely devoid of responsibility.
Finn sometimes felt like he'd been responsible from the day he took his first steps. He'd started out as a one-man shop right out of college, and built McKenna Designs into a multioffice corporation designing projects all over the world. His rapid growth, coupled with a recession that fell like an axe on the building industry, and one mistake he wished he could go back in time and undo, had damaged his bottom line. Nearly taken him to bankruptcy.
"Carpe diem, Finn," Riley said. "You should try it sometime. Get out of the office and live a little."
Riley laughed. Out loud. "Right."
"Running a company is a demanding job," Finn said. Across the room, the woman he wanted to talk to was still making small talk with the other partygoers. To Finn, the room seemed like an endless sea of blue and black, neckties and polished loafers. Only two people stood out in the dark ocean before him
Riley, who had bucked the trend by wearing a collarless white shirt under a sportscoat trimmed to fit his physique.
And Eleanor Winston, who'd opted for a deep cranberry dress that wrapped around her slender frame, emphasizing her small waist, and hourglass shape. She was the only woman in a colorful dress, the only one who looked like she was truly at a cocktail party, not a funeral, as Riley would say. She had on high heels in a light neutral color, making her legs seem impossibly long. They curved in tight calf muscles, leading up to creamy thighs and
He had a job to do and getting distracted would only cost him in the end.
"You seem to make it harder than most, though. For Pete's sake, you have a sofa bed in your office." Riley chuckled and shook his head. "If that doesn't scream lonely bachelor with no life, I don't know what does. Unless Miss Marstein is keeping you warm at night."
Finn choked on the sip of beer in his mouth. His assistant was an efficient, persnickety woman in her early sixties who ran his office and schedule with an iron fist. "Miss Marstein is old enough to be my grandmother."
"And you're celibate enough to be a monk. Get away from the blueprints, Hawk, and live a little."
Finn let out a sigh. Riley didn't get it. He'd always been the younger, irresponsible one, content to live off the inheritance from their parents' death, rather than carry the worries of a job. Riley didn't understand the precarious position McKenna Designs was in right now. How one mistake could cost him all the ground he'd regained, one painful step at a time. People were depending on Finn to succeed. His employees had families, mortgages, car payments. He couldn't let them down. It was about far greater things than Finn's reputation or bottom line.
Finn bristled. "I work long days and yes, sometimes nights. It's more efficient to have a sofa bed"
"Efficient? Try depressing." Riley tipped his beer toward the woman across from them. "If you were smart, you'd think about getting wild with her on that sofa bed. Sleep's overrated. While sex, on the other hand.. " He grinned. "Can't rate it highly enough."
"I do not have time for something like that. The company has been damaged by this roller-coaster economy and " He shook his head. Regret weighed down his shoulders. "I never should have trusted her."
Riley placed a hand on Finn's shoulder. "Stop beating yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes."
"Still, I never should have trusted her," he said again. How many times had he said that to himself? A hundred times? Two hundred? He could say it a thousand and it wouldn't undo the mistake.
"You were in love. All men act like idiots when they're in love." Riley grinned. "Take it from the expert."
"You've been in love? Real, honest-to-goodness love?"
Riley shrugged. "It felt real at the time."
"Well, I won't make that mistake again." Finn took a deep gulp of beer.
"You're hopeless. One bad relationship is no reason to become a hermit."
One bad relationship? Finn had fallen for a woman who had stolen his top clients, smeared his reputation and broken his heart. That wasn't a bad relationship, it was the sinking of the Titanic. He'd watched his parents struggle through a terrible marriage, both of them unhappily mismatched, and didn't want to make the same mistake.
"I'm not having this conversation right now." Finn's gaze went to Ellie Winston again. She had moved on to another group of colleagues. She greeted nearly everyone she saw, with a smile, a few words, a light touch. And they responded in kind. She had socializing down to an art. The North Carolina transplant had made friends quickly. Only a few weeks in the city and she was winning over the crowd of their peers with one hand tied behind her back. Yes, she'd be an asset to his company and his plan. A good one. "I'm focused on work."
"Seems to me you're focused on her." Riley grinned.
"She's a means to an end, nothing more."
"Yeah, well, the only ending I see for you, Finn, is one where you're old and gray, surrounded by paperwork and sleeping alone in that sofa bed."