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By Lori Foster
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSHE WAS THE PERFECT WOMAN to have his baby.
Tony Austin continued to stare, analyzing her features, considering the construction of her body. He'd already done so, of course, but now he was more thorough. She wasn't beautiful, but that was okay, because beauty wasn't essential to his plan. And she was striking, even arresting in her presence, her confidence and poise.
Though he tried to stop himself, his gaze was repeatedly drawn to her, and finally Olivia Anderson caught him looking. The small, curious smile she sent him took his breath away, but he shook his head, deciding his reaction was excitement for his plan and nothing else.
That was all it could be.
As always, she looked elegant. She wore a simple black dress and black heels, but that had little to do with his heightened interest. He had made a decision, and she was deeply involved in that decision whether she knew it yet or not. He rubbed his hands together, feeling his anticipation build.
He'd been acquainted with her for three years now as a business associate, and he knew she'd only attended his party as a means of furthering that association. Nothing in their relationship was of a personal nature - and he intended to keep it that way.
Just two days ago, she'd presented him with a proposal to expand her business that would add one more of her novelty lingerie shops to another Austin Crown hotel. He hadn't given her an answer yet, but he would. Tonight. And then he'd have a question of his own to present.
For the first time in a very long time, he felt nervous on the verge of making a business proposition. Then Olivia started toward him with her determined, long-legged, graceful stride and all he could think of was what a beautiful baby they could create together.
He welcomed her with a smile.
HE'S GOING TO GIVE IT TO ME.
Olivia tingled with anticipation. Tony had been watching her, almost studying her, all evening. And there could only be one possible reason for that. The sense of impending victory thrilled her.
His gaze held hers as she neared. There was that slight tilting of his mouth - an unaffected sensual look that she knew got all the single women and even the not-so-single women excited. But Olivia would only get excited if he gave her the news she wanted.
Her business was her life, and she didn't allow herself the time or the desire for anything else. She was certain he didn't, either. At least, not with her.
She was well aware of Tony's reputation with other women, and it was the women building that reputation. They claimed he was a spectacular lover, though how many had firsthand knowledge she couldn't guess. He appeared very circumspect to her. He never spoke of his relationships. In fact, he seemed oblivious to the talk.
She tried to be oblivious as well; her only interest in him was business related. But she had to admit there were occasions when she couldn't quite stop her mind from wandering ...
She stood mere inches from him and at five-eleven or so with her heels on she nearly looked him in the eye. They stood by the balcony doors, no one else within hearing distance, the ambience soft and intimate. Olivia dismissed her wayward thoughts and lifted her glass of soda to him in a mock salute. "Tony."
"Hello, Olivia." His voice was deeper than usual, his gaze more intent. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
He seemed almost watchful, and anticipatory, not wearing the cool persona he usually assumed in her company. She looked around at the newly decorated offices, pretending an interest she didn't feel. This party was to launch the renovation of his massive downtown hotel, which had been standing for decades. With its new upscale furnishings and classy decor, it was positioned to compete with other hotels where price was no obstacle. "Everything is lovely, Tony. Why wouldn't I enjoy myself?"
His lazy smile deepened, his gaze became probing. "I don't think you're much for parties. You seem preoccupied." He tilted his head slightly. "Anxious to get back to business matters?"
Olivia swallowed her immediate response and the last sip in her glass. She allowed her gaze to follow a passing couple, then said, "I was wondering if you'd come to a decision, yet. Of course, a party isn't exactly the place to discuss such things, but ..." She looked back at him and caught him watching her closely. Again. "If you'd care to enlighten me?"
Tony chuckled and ignored her question. He excelled at business games, but then, so did she. "Would you like something else to drink?"
"No, thank you," she replied.
"Had too much already?"
"Of soda? I think I can handle it. You however ..." She circled his thick wrist with her fingers to bring his glass toward her and then she sniffed. But she didn't detect the fumes of alcohol. She frowned.
"I don't drink, either. Too many of my associates do, and I think someone has to stay sober to oversee things."
Olivia didn't want to show him her surprise, but she found herself doing just that. "So you never indulge?"
"An occasional glass of wine with dinner. Very occasional."
"I'm a teetotaler."
Olivia hesitated. It was funny how you could know a person for years and never say or do anything outside the realm of related business, then suddenly be discussing very intimate, personal topics. She didn't really mind, though. She'd always believed the better you knew your business associates the easier it would be to deal with them. It was her fondest wish to do a great many deals with Tony Austin. She finally nodded and answered, "Very personal. I detest alcohol."
"Maybe someday you'll tell me why."
Tony was silent a moment. He appeared to be studying her drop-pearl earrings until suddenly he asked, "Do you have a five-year goal for yourself, Olivia? Or some long-term destination that you're working toward?"
Again, Olivia felt that touch of excitement and tried to quell it. He was showing an interest he'd never shown before, and that could only mean he approved her business management. Tony Austin was the epitome of business excellence. A person could learn everything she needed to know from him.
It was said Tony had doubled the Austin Crown hotel chain within three years of his father's death. Under Tony's guidance the hotels had grown from mediocre to posh and exclusive. Every upscale business convention around wanted to be on the receiving end of Crown's special treatment.
Tony Austin's employees loved him and praised his leadership. As a pioneer in the business world with one of the fastest growing hotel chains around, he was regularly featured in business magazines. Austin Crown hotels were located throughout the country and probably would soon be around the world.
Olivia watched now as he propped himself up against the wall, the breadth of his shoulders visible even beneath the elegant cut of his dark suit. He was a well-built man, she admitted to herself, in his early thirties, with more energy and determination than anyone she knew. Right now his brown hair, darker and richer than her own and with a spot more curl, had fallen forward over his brow, and his green eyes were intense on her features.
Excerpted from Scandalous by Lori Foster Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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