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Josey took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and opened the door to Crazy Horse Choppers. She did this all while managing to completely ignore the impending sense of doom in her stomacha sense of doom that told her soliciting educational donations from a motorcycle shop, no matter how upscale, was a hysterically bad idea.
The waiting room smelled of expensive leather and motor oil. Two black leather chairs with chrome accents sat on either side of a coffee table that was a sheet of round glass precariously perched on a collection of motorcycle handlebars twisted to form a base. Josey knew money when she saw it, and that furniture said custom-made. One wall was covered with autographed photos of her prey, Robert Bolton, with every kind of celebrity and pseudo-celebrity. A wall of glass separated the room from the actual shop. Several large, scary-looking men were workingwith the kinds of tools she neededon the other side of the wall. Bad idea or no, she was desperate. A shop class wasn't a class without shop tools.
That thought was cut short by a hard-looking womanstringy hair that was supposed to be blond, tattoos practically coming out of her ears and more piercings than Josey could countshouting, "Help you?" over thrashing music. Metallica, Josey thought.
The receptionist sat at a glossy black desk that looked to be granite. On the wall behind her hung a tasteful arrangement of black leather motorcycle jackets emblazoned with the Crazy Horse logo. The woman looked horribly out of place.
A second later, the music quietedreplaced with the high whine of shop tools cutting through metal. The receptionist winced. Josey immediately revised her opinion of the woman. If she had to listen to that whine all day, she'd resort to heavy metal to drown it out, too.
"Hello," Josey said, sticking out her hand. The woman looked at Josey's manicure and bangle bracelets and curled a lip. It was not a friendly gesture. Undaunted, Josey just smiled that much sweeter. "I'm Josette White Plume. I have a nine-thirty appointment with Robert Bolton." After another beat, Josey pulled her hand back. She kept her chin up, though.
So what if the receptionist looked like she'd come to work directly from an all-nighter? Bikers were people, too. At least that's what Josey was going to keep telling herself. A happy secretary was the difference between getting a purchase order pushed through in a week versus six months.
The receptionistthe name tag on her shirt said Cassleaned over and flipped a switch on an intercom. "Your nine-thirty is here."
"My what?" The voice that came over the other end was tinny, but deepand distracted.
Didn't Robert remember she was coming? She'd sent an email confirmation last night. The impending sense of doom grew. Josey swallowed, but managed to do so quietly.
Cass shot her a look that might be apologetic. "Your nine-thirty. More specifically, Bobby's nine-thirty. But he's in L.A.or did you miss that?"
Waitwhat? Who was in L.A.? Who was Cass talking to?
The doom in her stomach turned violent, hitting her with a wave of nausea. Dang, but she hated it when those stupid senses were on target.
She thought she'd been prepared. She'd spent weeks e-stalking Robert. She'd spent hours scrolling through his social networks, taking detailed notes on with whom he was meeting and why. She knew his favorite food (cheeseburgers from some dive in L.A.), where he bought his shirts (Diesel) and which actresses he'd been spotted kissing (too many to count). Her entire pitchdown to the close-cut, cap-sleeved, black wool banquette dress she was wearingwas built around the fact that Robert Bolton was a slick, ego-driven salesman who was making his family's choppers a national name. Heck, she knew more about Robert Bolton than she knew about her own father.
But none of that mattered right now. She was completely, totally unprepared. More than anything in this world, Josey hated being unprepared. Failure to plan was planning to fail. Being unprepared was about the same thing.
She'd been unprepared for Matt's rejection of her two years ago. She'd already been making plans, but in the endbecause there was always an endhe'd chosen his family over her. She didn't "fit," Matt had claimed. And what he'd really meant was that, because she was a Lakota Indian, she didn't fit in his world. And, as a white man, he had no interest in fitting in hers. Not permanently.
The voice on the other end of the intercom grumbled, "I'm aware Bobby's in California. Is it a client or a supplier?"
"Then why the hell are you bothering me?" The intercom snapped off with an audible huff.
"Sorry," Cass said, clearly not. "Can't help you."
The dismissalblunt and heartlesstook all of her nerves and grated on them. Josey would not be ignored. If there was one thing she'd learned from her mother, it was that a silent Lakota Indian woman was a forgotten Lakota Indian woman. Because that's what she wasa Lakota woman.
She'd tried not being one, and that had just gotten her heart trampled on. After the affair with Matt had ended so spectacularly, she'd quit her job as a corporate fundraiser in New York and come home to her mother and her tribe. She'd somewhat foolishly thought they'd welcome her with open arms, but that hadn't happened, either.
So here she was, doing her best to prove that she was a full member of the tribe by building a school in the middle of the rez. But schools were expensive to build, more expensive to equip. So what if Crazy Horse Choppers had a reputation for being less than warm and fuzzy toward charitable causes? So what if Robert Bolton wasn't here? Someone was up there, and whoever it was would have to do. Screw being unprepared. Winging it had its advantages.
"Sure you can. You probably run this whole place, don't you?"
Cass smiledwithout making eye contact, but it was still a smile. "Damn straight I do. Those boys would be lost without me."
Josey considered her line of attack. "You aren't old enough to have school-aged children" Cass's head popped up, a pleased smirk on her face. She might be thirty-five or fifty-fivethere was no telling with all those tattoos. But flattery could get a girl everywhereif well done. And Josey could do it well. "I'm raising money for the vo-tech program at a new school, and I thought a chopper shop would be the perfect place to start."
So that was a lie. This was a last-ditch attempt to get some equipment. She'd started out approaching big manufacturers and had slowly worked her way down the food chain to local auto repair shops, remodeling contractors and even shop teachers at wealthier schools. Nothing. Not a damn thing.
Josey had gotten a twenty-two-year-old internet billionaire to give a few computers, a television chef who was on a healthy food kick to pay for some kitchen equipment and a furniture place to give her last year's model dining room tables and chairs to use for desks. She couldn't pry a band saw out of anyone's cold, dead hands. Against the vocal protests of a small group of school board members, led by Don Two Eagles, who wanted nothing to do with bikers in general and Boltons in particular, she'd decided to try Crazy Horse.
What did she have to lose? The school opened in five weeks.
"A school?" Doubt crept across Cass's face. "I dunno "
"If I could just talk to someone "
Cass shot her a mean look. Right. She was someone, so Josey pulled out a brochure and launched into her pitch.
"I represent the Pine Ridge Charter School. We're dedicated to the educational and emotional well-being of the un-derserved children of the Pine Ridge reservation"
Cass held up her hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. I give." She flipped on the intercom again.
"Damn it, what?" On the bright side, the man on the other end was no longer distracted. However, he sounded mad. That sense of doom came rushing back in.
"She won't go."
"Who the hell are you talking about?" Excellent, Josey thought. Shouting.
Cass looked Josey up and down. There was something sneaky in her eyes as she said, "The nine-thirty. Says she's not going anywhere until she talks to someone."
He cursed. Rudely.
Whoa. F-bombs at nine-thirty in the morning. What on earth was she getting herself into?
"What is your problem, Cassie? You suddenly incapable of throwing someone out the door?" The shout was so loud that it briefly drowned out the sounds of the shop.
Cassie grinned like she was up for a round or two. She winked at Josey and said, "Why don't you come down here and throw her out yourself?"
"I do not have time for this. Get Billy to scare her off."
"Out on a test drive. With your father. It's all you today." She gave Josey a thumbs-up, as if this were a positive development.
The intercom made a God-awful screeching noise before it went dead. "Ben'll be right down," Cass said, enjoying being a pain in the backside. She pointed to a door in the wall of glass.
Maybe Josey should bail. Don Two Eagles had been rightCrazy Horse Choppers was a crazy idea. Josey put on her best smile as she thanked Cassie for helping out, hoping the smile would hide the panic hammering at her stomach.
BenBenjamin Bolton? Robert was the only member of the Bolton family who had joined the twenty-first century and had an online presence. Aside from a fuzzy group photo of the entire Crazy Horse staff and a generic-sounding history that traced how Bruce Bolton had founded the company forty years ago, she hadn't found anything usable about any other Bolton. She knew next to nothing about Ben. She thought he was the chief financial officer, and Robert's older brother. That was all she had to go on.
Before she'd made up her mind to stand her ground or take off, the glass door flew open. Ben Bolton filled the door frame, anger rolling off him in waves so palpable Josey fought to keep her balance. Should have run, she thought as Mr. Bolton roared, "What the hell"
Then he caught sight of Josey. For a split second, he froze as he stared at her. Then everything about him changed. His jawsolid enough to have been carved from graniteset as his eyes flashed with something that might have been anger, but Josey chose to interpret as desire.
Maybe that was just wishful thinkingin all likelihood, he was still angrybut without a doubt, Ben Bolton was the most handsome man she'd seen in a long time. Maybe ever. Heat flooded her cheeks, and she couldn't tell if that was attraction or just nerves.
He straightened up and puffed out his chest. Okay. This situation was salvageable. Brothers often liked the same thingsmusic, gameswhy should women be any different? She didn't have enough time left to start over. She batted her eyelashes at hima move she'd learned a long time ago worked despite being cliched.
"Mr. Bolton? Josette White Plume," she said, advancing on him with a hand outstretched. His palm swallowed hers. He could have crushed her hand, but he didn't. His grip was firm without being dominating. She felt her cheeks get even warmer. "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today." They both knew that he'd taken no such time, but a gentleman wouldn't contradict a lady. His reaction would tell her exactly what kind of man she was dealing with here. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
Bolton's nostrils flared as the muscles along his jaw tensed. "How can I help you, Ms. White.Plume?" He said her name like he was afraid of it.
Lovely. Hopefully he wouldn't start spouting all that PC nonsense about how she was an indigenous American of Native descent. As long as no one called her an Injun, the world could keep turning. She tightened her grip on his hand enough that one of his eyebrows notched up. She couldn't tell if his hair was black or brown in the dim light of the waiting room, but he'd look plenty good either way. "Perhaps we could discuss the particulars elsewhere?"
Suddenly, Bolton dropped her hand so fast that it bordered on pushing her away. "Why don't you come up to my office?" he asked, that flash of anger growing a little stronger.
Behind her, Cass snorted. Bolton shot her a look of pure warning, a look so hot Josey might have melted if it had been aimed square at her. But the dangerous look went right over her shoulder. By the time Ben Bolton turned those baby blues back to her, he was back to that no-man's-land between danger and desire. He stared down at her with an intensity she didn't normally encounter. He was waiting for her answer, she realized after a silent moment had passed. That was unusual. Most men just expected her to follow.
"That would be fine. I wouldn't want to keep Cass from her work."
Bolton narrowed those blue eyes in challenge, then turned on his heel and stalked out of the room. Josey barely had time to grab her briefcase before he'd disappeared out of sight.
"Good luck with that," Cass called out behind her in a cackling laugh.
In these shoes, Josey had to hurry to keep up with Bolton's long strides. He took the metal stairs two at a time, putting his bottom somewhere between hand and eye level. She shouldn't be openly gapingnot in public, anywaybut she couldn't help it. The whole back end was a sight to behold. Ben Bolton had wide shoulders packing the kind of muscle that a gray button-down shirt couldn't hide. His torso was long and lean, narrowing into a V-waist that was wrapped in a leather tool belt, which was way more cowboy than biker. His ankles were the safest place to look, Josey decided. Black denim jeans flowed over black cowboy boots with extra thick soles.
One thing was abundantly clear. Ben Bolton wasn't a normal CFO.
Below her, someone wolf-whistled. Before she could reactcringe, stick out her chin in defiance, anything Bolton whipped his body to the railing and shouted, "That's enough!" in a voice powerful enough that Josey swore she could feel the vibrations through the metal stairs.
The sounds of the workshopthe clanging of hammers hitting metal, the whine of air compressors, a stream of words she could only vaguely discern as cursinginstantly died down to a low hum as Bolton bristled. For a moment, Josey thought she saw the railing bend in his grasp.
Josey's insides went a little gooey. This wasn't a show of power, this was actual power, so potent that she could nearly taste it. Ben Bolton commanded absolute respect, and he got it. She was an outsider hereshe couldn't think of a time when she'd been more out of her leaguebut he still defended her without a second thought.
Bolton's glare swung down to where she stood precariously perched on a step, as if he thought she'd challenge the authority that had silently reined in twelve men armed with power tools. And then he was moving away from her, taking each step slowly and methodically this time.