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"That man has arrived, Donnay."
Chardonnay Russell lifted her head and gazed into her mother's worried eyes. She tossed aside the pencil and notebook as she stood up. She hated to see her family agonize over money problems now. The winery had always brought in a substantial profit, but her grand-father's hospital bill earlier that year, and the subsequent cost of his medications had eroded their extra funds. Now they were barely hanging on.
So far every bank they had applied to for a loan had turned them down. Their last hope was the bank she had visited a few days ago in San Francisco. Mr. Gordon, the bank manager, had seemed positive and she had left in a better frame of mind.
The nervous tone of her mother's voice cut into her thoughts. A smile played across Chardonnay's face as she crossed the room, not for the first time realizing her mother was a very beautiful woman. Donnay never knew her father. In fact, the only thing she'd been told about him was that her mother had met and fallen in love with him at eighteen. Chad Timberlain was a soldier on extended leave who had worked at the vineyards one summer and then returned to duty before finding out his short stay had produced a child.
"It's okay for him to wait, Mom. I'm sure it won't be the first time."
Or maybe it would be, she silently concluded. Earlier that day she had scanned the Internet to read up on Spencer Westmoreland. The thirty-six-year-old had made his first million before his thirtieth birthday. According to what she'd read, the wealthy tycoon had retired last year with more money than he could ever spend. Evidently he had gotten bored and wanted a new toyher family's winery.
"Where's Gramps and Grammy?" she asked softly. She knew her grandparents were even more worried about their meeting with Mr. Westmoreland than her mother.
"They're in the kitchen. Janice has escorted our visitor to the study and he's there waiting."
Donnay nodded. "All right then. It's time for us to meet Mr. Westmoreland, and remember the three of you agreed to let me handle him my way."
Spencer paced the room and glanced at the various framed awards on the wall with a wry smile. Timing, he mused, was the reason he was being kept waiting. He hadn't become a successful businessman without knowing how the game was played. He was fully aware that the best way to keep a business opponent on edge was to make them wait. Stall them. Test their patience and their ability to endure.
He shook his head as an even broader smile touched his lips. The tactic was a waste of time with him, but Chardonnay Russell wouldn't know that. She had every reason to believe she was the one calling the shots and no doubt would be surprised to discover she wasn't.
"Sorry that you were kept waiting, Mr.Westmoreland."
Yeah, I bet, he thought, slowly turning toward the sound of the soft, feminine voice. Any further thoughts on his mind died a sudden death the moment his gaze connected to the most gorgeous pair of eyes he'd ever seen. They were silver-gray and he wondered if she was wearing colored contacts lenses, but quickly concluded she wasn't when he noticed the other three persons standing beside her had the same eye coloring. Evidently a family trait.
He quickly gathered his composure and said, "It was no problem."
The truth to the matter was that there was a problem and it came in the form of Chardonnay Russell. The woman was absolutely stunning. In his lifetime he had met and dated numerous beautiful women, but standing before him was definitely a rare beauty.
She was tall, at least five-nine. Slim and curvy in the short-sleeve white blouse and printed gypsy skirt she was wearing. And her facial features were exquisite. Dark, luxurious brown hair flowed around her shoulders. She had long lashes, mocha colored skin that looked incredibly soft, a perfect nose and kissable lips.
The hoop earrings dangling from her ears made her look even sexier. Made him feel hotter.
Never had Spencer's gut clenched so tight or every muscle in his body felt so taut because of a woman. But there was something flagrantly erotic about her, and while looking into her gray eyes all he could think about were satin sheets and entangled bodies.
"I think introductions are in order," she said curtly, slicing into his personal perusal of her and his lusty thoughts. He watched her kissable lips move; however, he wasn't listening. His thoughts were too centered on the alluring package she presented and how he would like opening it up, enjoying it.
"We have you at a disadvantage," she continued saying. "We know who you are, but you don't know us since we dealt with your attorney, Mr. Fulmer, in the past."
His gaze picked up her every movement when she crossed the room, giving him a chance to check out those long legs underneath her skirt as well as her small waistline. And to make matters worse, all it took was one sniff and he picked up her scent. The arousing fragrance only added to his inner frustrations. He had a natural ability when it came to business, but handling such an intense degree of lust was another matter.
"I'm Chardonnay Russell," she said, offering him her hand. "And this is my mother, Ruth Russell, and my grandparents, Daniel and Catherine Russell."
Spencer took Chardonnay's hand in his, and the moment their hands touched, an electrical current raced through him. The sensation annoyed the hell out of him and he tightened his jaw. This was not the time to be reminded that since he'd been extremely busy lately, he hadn't had a woman in over seven months. Unfortunately his increased heart rate was reminding him of that very fact and he was fighting hard to keep his features impassive, his mind sharp.
"Ms. Russell," he said, quickly releasing her hand. He then moved to shake the hands of her mother and grandparents. He noted her grandfather didn't look well and recalled reading in one of the reports that the winery's financial woes were due to the man's escalating medical bills.
"Now that introductions have made, please, let's sit down."
Chardonnay's voice cut into his thoughts, reminding him of why he was there. "Yes, I suggest that we do," he agreed.
"Like I've told Mr. Fulmer, the vineyard is no longer for sale. And I might as well warn you, Mr. Westmore-land, that if you assume you'll be able to change our minds about that then you are vastly mistaken," she said the moment she took her seat.
Spencer liked her spunk. She was definitely no push-over. "On the contrary, Ms. Russell. In business, one never operates on assumptionsat least not if one intends to be successful in getting what he wants."
He saw the quick frown that appeared around her eyes. Those same eyes he thought looked sexy as hell. "And you think you're going to get what you want, Mr. Westmoreland, even after I've said we no longer want to sell?" she asked, narrowing her gaze at him.
"Yes, I think so," he said rather arrogantly. "Mainly because you haven't seen my new proposal."
He couldn't help cutting her a very cocky grin, one he was certain irritated the hell out of her. But at the moment he didn't give a damn. He was feeling adrenaline of another kind flow through his bloodstream. The one he always felt when pitted against a worthy opponent.
"Now," he said calmly, "I suggest you let me present a new proposal to you."
Donnay's head snapped up from the report she was reading. "What you plan to do with our land is unacceptable."
She saw the look in his eyes was tempered steel, and he didn't blink when he said, "It really shouldn't concern you what I plan to do with the property once I acquire it. All you need to be concerned with is that the price I'm offering is more than fair."
Donnay frowned. He was sitting across from her on the sofa, casually sipping the wine her grandfather had offered him before they got started with business. Some of Russell Vineyards' finest.
"Well, it does concern us, which is why we've decided not to sell. And now after reading this proposal I'm sure my family and I have made the right decision."
"If you think that, then you're wrong. Look at the proposal closely, Ms. Russell," he said in an annoyed tone, sitting up and leaning forward. "I'm willing to pay you a half million more than what I'd authorized my attorney to offer. I think that's more than generous and it's all the increase I'm willing to make. Can you and your family truly turn down the deal I've placed on the table?"
Donnay nervously bit her lip. Truly they couldn't. She didn't want to think about what could happen if the bank didn't approve their request for a loan. She glanced over at her mother and grandparents. They were depending on her to make the right decision for the family, especially her grandfather with his heart problems and diabetes. Still, she refused to let someone like Spencer Westmore-land waltz in and take advantage of their situation.
But then she should have known she was in trouble when she'd entered the room and he stood there, impeccably dressed in an Armani suit and looking like he was ready to buy or sell whatever suited his fancy. Then there were his looks that were sharp, sexy and suave. He had to be over six-three, with coffee-colored skin, short, dark hair, a generous mouth and the darkest pair of eyes she'd ever seen on a man. In fact, they were so intense that each and every time they connected to hers she felt a tingle slowly make its way up her spine.
"I asked you a question, Ms. Russell."
She glared at him, not liking his tone. She drew in an agitated breath as she glanced back over at her family. Her grandfather nodded and a slight smile touched his lips, giving her the encouragement she needed to give Spencer Westmoreland her answer. She had to believe that a miracle would come in the form of that friendly banker in San Francisco, who actually seemed sympathetic to their financial problems.
Taking such a chance might be foolish but, sighing deeply, she met Spencer Westmoreland's gaze and said, "Yes, we can turn it down and we will turn it down."
She then stood. "We've taken up too much of your time already, Mr. Westmoreland, and we have work to do around here. My family appreciates your interest in the Russell Vineyard but like I said earlier, it's no longer for sale."
Spencer stood and snapped his briefcase closed. He was silent for a long moment then he said, "If you think you've seen the last of me, you are sadly mistaken."
Donnay saw the smile that touched the corners of his lips when he added, "I'm finding you a worthy opponent, Ms. Russell."
She stiffened her spine. "Don't count on being a nuisance, Mr. Westmoreland. Just go find another vineyard to buy. And if you try making trouble for us, you'll be sorry."
His smile widened and the look he gave her sent shivers up her spine. "I promise I won't be the one making any trouble for you, but I can guarantee you that in refusing my offer, you've just made a lot of trouble for yourself. Good day."
Once Spencer had gotten at least a mile from the Russell Vineyard, he pulled the rental car to the shoulder of the road and placed a call on his mobile phone. He couldn't get out of his mind just how beautiful Chardonnay was and the degree of his attraction to her. Never before had he been so aroused by a woman.
He was intuitive enough to know that even with others in the room she had been acutely aware of him, just as he had been aware of her. And she'd been fully conscious of the sexual attraction between them, although in the midst of a business battle they had attempted to stay focused and downplay it.
"Stuart? This is Spence. I want you to find out which bank is leaning toward loaning the Russells the money and let me know immediately."
He clicked the phone shut and sat there for a long focusing on his surroundings. It was a gorgeous day for early December, and the land around him was beautiful. He wanted that land. A thought then flickered across his mind. In addition to the land there was something else he now wanted.
His brows knitted together in deep thought. The single Westmorelands were dropping like flies, and from the look on his mother's face at McKinnon and Casey's wedding, she expected the next victim to be another one of her sons. So why should he disappoint her?
After Lynette Marie's betrayal, the thought of ever marrying for love was as foreign to him as a snowstorm in the tropics. He had mourned the loss of his fiancée, who had died in a jet-ski accident over four years ago in Bermuda, only to discover from the coroner's report that she had been six-weeks pregnant. That meant she had gotten pregnant sometime during the two months she had been there on business. That had also meant he had not been the father of her child.
His hand tightened on the steering wheel. A marriage for love was out of the question but he would definitely entertain a marriage for lust. Besides, at thirty-six he had accumulated a lot of wealth, wealth he had worked hard to acquire. It was time to think about his future and make some important changes.
Although he wasn't looking for a love match like three of his brothers, Jared, Durango and Ian, had been blessed with, it was time for him to settle down, marry and secure his future with a child who would one day inherit all of his wealth.
He couldn't help but smile when he thought of all the babies born in the Westmoreland family just this year. His cousin Delaney and her husband, Sheikh Jamal Ari Yasir, had given birth to their second child, a girl, whom they had named Arielle. His cousin Dare and his wife Shelley also had a daughter born in August. Durango and his wife Savannah had been blessed with a daughter in September; and his cousins Thorn and Stone and their wives were expecting new additions to the family as well. Thorn and Tara's baby was to be born at the end of the month, and Stone and Madison were expecting their firstborn in February.
Spencer restarted the car's engine.As he continued the journey to the Chablis, the resort where he was staying, he knew the next time he and Chardonnay's paths crossed, he would be making her an offer.And this would not be one that she would refuse. He would make damn sure of it. He was now a man on a mission. He was also a man who was known to go after whatever he wanted and didn't let up until he succeeded in getting it.
And what he wanted with Chardonnay was a merger of the most intimate kind.