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This would be the biggest gamble of her life.
That was Colby Wingate's very thought as she glanced up at the tall, impressive structure that housed the law firm of Stewart, Heard and Mathers. Summoning up much-needed courage, she entered the building determined to go through with her plan. She couldn't get cold feet now. The future of her brother's company depended on her.
The main lobby of the huge building contained a spectacular eighty-foot atrium populated with numerous flowers and plants, and a huge breathtaking, tinkling waterfall. She couldn't help admiring a painting on a wall that showed a stunning scene of turquoise waters and snow-capped mountains.
She stepped into the elevator, the doors slid shut and it carried her to the twenty-ninth floor. The door of the elevator opened, and a smiling secretary seated in the spacious and elaborately decorated foyer eyed her curiously when she gave her name.
"Mr. Stewart's on the phone right now, Ms. Wingate. Please have a seat. He'll be with you shortly."
Colby nodded and sat in the leather chair offered. To pass the time, she picked up the latest issue of People magazine from a nearby table. There on its cover, bigger than life, was the one man who could save Wingate Cosmeticsmovie actor Sterling Hamilton.
She studied his features and decided that although Denzel Washington was her favorite actor, Sterling Hamilton was definitely a good-looking man. His eyes, the color of rich, dark chocolate and fringed by thick ebony lashes, appeared to be staring right at her. His face, sable in color, contained full sensual lips and a blunt jaw. His slightly arched nose appeared to have been broken at one time. That wouldn't have surprised her.According to her sister-in-law, Cynthia, who was probably one of Sterling Hamilton's biggest fans, he performed most of his own stunts. Instead of blemishing his features, the slight indentation in his nose somehow enhanced his looks. Centuries of African heritage were etched in his features, and his prominent cheekbones hinted at the possibility of Indian ancestry as well.
As she catalogued his explosively attractive looks, she knew that this was a man who had a masculine force about him. He had a quality of male assurance not many women could easily ignore, or forget. There was no doubt about it, the man definitely had appeal. And she hoped he would agree to use that appeal and endorse Wingate Cosmetics' newest masculine cologne called Awesome. His endorsement would guarantee the cologne's success and the survival of the company.
Colby was grateful Mr. Hamilton's attorney, Edward Stewart, had agreed to meet with her, and she had been delighted at the expedience with which he had done so. She understood Sterling Hamilton was out of the country filming a movie and was not due back in the States for another month or so. Edward Stewart handled all of his business affairs while he was away.
"Ms. Wingate, Mr. Stewart will see you now." The secretary's words snapped Colby out of her thoughts. She stood, refusing to think anything but positive thoughts.
The door to the office opened. Taking a deep breath to settle the feeling of butterflies in her stomach, she walked inside the spacious room. The first thing she noticed was that Mr. Stewart hadn't completely opened the window blinds in his office to allow the California sun to shine through.
Colby looked up into the face of the older gentleman who stood when she entered the plush office. He was a little on the heavy side, slightly bald and had a square wall of a forehead with heavy brows for a base. His face, although firmly set in deep thought, was friendly.
"Please have a seat, Ms. Wingate, and thank you for coming," he stated, coming forward to shake her hand. "Thank you for agreeing to see me, Mr. Stewart," she said, smiling and taking the chair he offered.
He nodded. "How was your flight to L.A.?"
"And your hotel accommodations?"
"They're excellent. I didn't expect you to take care of my flight nor my lodging."
He gave a warm chuckle. "Of course we took care of them. We sent for you to come to California, didn't we?"
Colby drew in a deep breath of excitement. "Yes."
"Well, then," he said, placing a folder in front of her. "The proposal is ready. I'll cover all the specifics with you in detail before you leave my office."
Colby's head came up. "It's ready? But I haven't given you all the information you'll need to make a sound decision."
Edward Stewart smiled, waving off her words with his hand. "There's really no need. Sterling was quite taken with the history and background investigation that was done."
Colby was surprised. "You did an investigation?"
"Of course. Under the circumstances, such measures had to be taken. This is very important to Sterling."
Colby was stunned. It was a known fact that on numerous occasions Sterling Hamilton had refused to endorse or have his name linked to any products. She'd been prepared to vigorously plead her case. Why was this endorsement very important to him? Why did he suddenly have a change of heart about doing them?
She was assaulted with a satisfying sense of relief.
Whatever his reasons, she was grateful for them and glad Wingate Cosmetics would ultimately benefit.
"After our meeting, I'll give you a copy of the proposal. I suggest you look it over carefully. Although, I'm sure you'll find everything satisfactory and in order. When Sterling decides to do something, he doesn't do it half-measure. And I do hope you understand that due to the nature of this matter, you're not to disclose this business arrangement between you and Sterling with anyone. That stipulation is included in the proposal and will be outlined in the final contract."
"But what about my brother? I'm sure you'll want to meet with him."
A confused frown covered the older man's face. "I don't understand. Why would we?"
Before Colby could answer the door behind her opened.
"Sterling? This is a pleasant surprise," Edward Stewart said, smiling at the man. "I didn't know you were back."
Colby glanced over her shoulder to look at the bearded man who entered the room. She took a deep breath as her eyes collided with Sterling Hamilton's. Even with the window blinds slightly closed, his very presence in the room radiated light and something else she couldn't help but notice, sensuous heat. The very idea that she could think such a thing surprised and fascinated her.
He was distinctively dressed in a pair of charcoal-gray, triple-pleated slacks, a colorful printed shirt and a double-breasted navy blue blazer. Tall and masculine, his clothes fit his body well.
Their eyes held.Apprehension touched Colby's body. An emotion she couldn't put a name to flooded through her with a force that left her speechless. For the first time in her life, a man had evoked an immediate and tangible response from her. She was vaguely aware of Edward Stewart making introductions and found herself getting to her feet on wobbly knees.
"Colby Wingate, how are you?" Sterling Hamilton's deep masculine voice seemed to radiate through the room.
Colby suddenly found her soft, fragile hand encompassed in the strong firmness of his. His eyes held her spellbound and seemed to probe deeply into hers. She didn't miss the look of pure masculine appreciation in them. For an intensifying moment, her heart thumped against her rib cage.
She took a deep breath. Nothing could have prepared her for this meeting. Because of her sister-in-law, Cynthia, she had seen many of his movies, but seeing him in the flesh was very unnerving. The man was bigger than life and just as sexy. She found her voice and replied shakily. "I'm fine, Mr. Hamilton, thank you."
"Please, call me Sterling."
Edward Stewart took a quick glance at the both of them. He cleared his throat. "I er think it would be a good idea if I left the two of you alone awhile to discuss the finer details of the contract. I'm sure Sterling will be able to answer any questions you might have, Ms. Wingate. I'll return later and make any modifications to the final contract the two of you deem necessary." Then he left the room.
An irresistibly devastating smile tugged at the corners of Sterling's mouth. "Please have a seat, Ms. Wingate."
"Thanks, and please call me Colby."
"All right, Colby." He took a quick glance around the room. "Edward isn't one for a lot of light," he said, opening the window blinds some more.
Colby sat down, staring at him. If she thought he was one fine brother in the dimly lit room, in the bright sunlight he was undeniably awesome. Never had a man radiated so much sensuality. It wasn't just in his looks, but in his walk, his stance, his stare and even his smell. The fresh, clean scent of him flowed through the room.
Sterling Hamilton turned from opening the blinds and stared at Colby in a way that went deeper than just casual observation. He leaned against the desk, enjoying the way the sunlight slanted through the windows and highlighted her nut-brown coloring. The stunning two-piece navy suit she wore gave her a look of sheer sophistication. Her thick mass of brownish-black hair flowed past her shoulders. Its glossy strands cascaded around her face like silk, softly framing her delicate features of almond-shaped dark eyes, high cheekbones, straight nose and succulent red lips that belonged in a Fashion Fair lipstick ad.
He couldn't help but notice her perfume was totally alluring. It was a fragrance he wasn't familiar with but one he definitely enjoyed inhaling. His nose had picked up the luscious scent of her the moment he'd walked into the room.
Sensing her nervousness from his open scrutiny, Sterling took the seat across from her. He couldn't remember the last time a woman had completely captured his full attention. He found it incredible that any woman could do that. He was accustomed to beautiful women, but the one sitting across from him not only had captured his attention, she was holding it tight.
"Mr. Stewart indicated you would cover the specifics of the contract," Colby said nervously, breaking the silence that had enveloped them. She felt under a microscope with his sharp, blatant appraisal of her.
Sterling nodded, not relinquishing his assessing stare. "I can't believe how swiftly things are moving along," Colby rushed on conversationally. "I'd just contacted Mr. Stewart a few weeks ago. I'm glad you decided to do it."
"Really?" Sterling replied, watching her with curious intensity. "It's been on my mind for quite a while. I decided the time was right."
Colby liked the sound of his voice. It was deep and husky. "I'm glad you think so. I believe everything will work out fine for us."
Sterling stroked his bearded chin, regarding her carefully. A hint of a smooth smile touched his lips when he responded. "I'm sure they will. I don't foresee any problems, Colby. Do you?"
"None whatsoever. In fact, a name has already been chosen."
Sterling's face registered his surprise. There was a sudden degree of coolness in his voice when he replied. "There was no need for you to do that, Colby. I already have a name picked out."
Now it was Colby who showed surprise. The heavy lashes shadowing her cheeks flew up. "You do?" At his nod she shrugged. "Well, I guess it's negotiable."
Sterling's dark eyebrow raised questioningly, and the line of his mouth tightened. "There's nothing to negotiate."
Colby was stunned by his words and his curt tone of voice. "I think J.C. may have something to say about that."
Sterling stared at her through dark, brooding eyes. "J.C.?"
"Yes, James Cameron Wingate. My brother."
"Your brother?" Sterling stood and stared at her, blinking. Confusion lined his features, and his mouth took on an unpleasant twist. "What does your brother have to do with any of this? This is strictly a business venture between the two of us."
Colby shook her head and gazed up at the man towering over her. "No, it's not," she replied angrily, getting to her feet so she could face him squarely. She knew he wielded a lot of power in Hollywood, but he was wrong if he thought for one minute he was going to run roughshod over her or Wingate Cosmetics. Of all the nerve! Just who does he think he is?
"I'm sorry if you were given the impression I'm alone in this, Sterling, but James has a lot to say about what happens. After all, it will be his creation, not yours."
Fury shone in Sterling's eyes and his face was set in a stormy expression. "His creation! How do you figure that? I don't know what kind of sick game you're playing but"
"How are things going?"
Sterling and Colby turned their furious glares from each other to Edward Stewart as he reentered the room. His smile faded when he saw their angry looks. "Have we encountered some sort of problem?"
"That's not the tip of it," Sterling replied heatedly, placing both hands on his hips. "She's trying to drag her brother into this! The contract is suppose to be between the two of us. No one else! I thought you made sure she understood that, Edward."
Colby's anger was boiling and topped the scale with Sterling's stone-faced expression. "How can I not drag James into this? After all, he owns the company."
"What company?" both men asked simultaneously, completely baffled.
Now it was Colby's time to be confused. "Wingate Cosmetics."
The two men looked at each other uneasily. And Colby didn't miss the questioning gaze that passed between them. Then Edward Stewart spoke softly. "Ms. Wingate, just why are you here?"
Colby's eyes narrowed. "You should know that, Mr. Stewart, since you're the one who sent for me. Your office called me a few days ago and said you were ready to discuss the proposal with me."
"And just what proposal do you think you're here to discuss?" Sterling asked in a somewhat menacing voice.
A flicker of a frown appeared on his face. His expression was still dark and angry.