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She'd come all the way to Toronto to find herself a man. Just not this man.
Shoot! She hoped it wasn't this man.
Yet, unable to help herself, Rose drank him inalong with every other woman in the room.
Broad, high cheekbones, long straight nose, wide sullen mouth and deepset eyes the colour of a night sky. His bored expression only highlighted the male beauty of his face. Undeniably the gene pool had blessed him. He stood far over six feet, his lean, muscular body clad in expensive dark threads that remained faithful to the strength of him and drew Rose's attention to how essentially different the male body was from the female.
As if she'd needed reminding, but this man just seemed to be in your face about it.
It wasn't as if he didn't have competition. A huddle of gorgeous young men, shifting in their suits, jostled either side of him. They were talking amongst themselves, one of them smirking at the cameras, another looking a little shy.
Rose could feel her face becoming flushed, but this wasn't the moment to suffer an attack of nerves. She'd known what she was getting into when she'd first spotted the Wolves' visit to Toronto in the daily newspaper. It was so high-profile it had leapt out of the sports section altogether and landed on 'look at me' page three along with a grainy photo of a couple of the team's stars.
Rose cared about sport about as much as she was interested in stock prices, but what the featured article had very clearly told her was other women did care. They cared a great deal. Not about the sportthat was all statistics and injuries, sweat and testosterone. No, women were interested in what all red-blooded females the world over paid attention to: a good-looking man with a honed body who knew how to use it.
The Wolves had that in spades, as well as the addition of some very high-profile players. And then there was that Russian thing they had going on. Melancholy eyes and high broad cheekbones, and rich dark accents that rolled r's like Formula One™-tuned tyreshard and fast into the corners.
Rose liked to think she knew exactly what women wanted. She liked to think she was an expert. Sheand the bank that held her loanwas depending on her expertise.
She wanted to prove to the worldor perhaps only to metropolitan Torontothat she knew what women wanted in a man and how to get it.
Except she hadn't reckoned on this man. He was talking quietly to the guy at his side, but his gaze kept sweeping the room, bored, moody.
Simmering, Rose decided, fanning herself with the programme the girl at the door had shoved into her unresisting hand.
It seemed the city's press had turned up to hear what these young, built Russian athletes, uncomfortable in their suits, had to say. The Russian national ice hockey team was dominant in the sport, but this Siberian team had all the glamour of its owner, Plato Kuragin, whose personal wealth and notorious reputation existed apart from the team. With him was a former national team coach but not, Rose noted, the couple of playerstwin brothersthe NHL here in Canada were keen to poach. More star Russian athletes had come out of the Wolves team than any other in the country.
Not that Rose caredand she knew that neither did any of the other women in the room if they were honest. What mattered was that the guys were all hot. This press jaunt wasn't about sport. It was about sex. Sex sold everything nowadays.
Women wanted them. Men wanted to be like them. She wanted a couple of ice hockey players to do a guest spot for her dating agency. It was publicity money couldn't buy, and as she didn't have very much money she intended to use charm to get what she wanted. A Southern woman's greatest asset.
It was why she hadn't approached the Wolves management team with her request. She had decided to put her man-handling skills to the ultimate test.
Except the best of the bunch, Mr Tall, Bored and Built, was the one footing the bill, and Rose suddenly knew she was in a lot of troublebecause feminine instinct told her Plato Kuragin wasn't a man she could handle. At all.
Rose had never seen a man less in need of a dating agency. He was built like an athlete, but everything about him asserted authority and power. She didn't have to be told who he was. Oh, yes, this was the guy who would cause her some trouble.
Well, her daddy hadn't raised a quitter, and that was why she was standing here in the middle of a media scrum in Toronto's Dorrington Hotel with that sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
People were firing questions at him in Russian and English, and although she didn't understand much of it she heard every word said in the deep, deliberate voice from up front. Wanting to get another look at him, Rose shuffled sideways in an effort to detach herself from the scrum.
'Pardon. Sorry. Just a secsorry.'
This wasn't strictly necessaryin fact understated to the point of invisible was supposed to be her modus operandibut she now had an uninterrupted view. A daunting view.
Thank God he wasn't in her plan. She could not possibly approach this man.
And then she realised he'd stopped speaking. He was looking at her. His eyes, so deep and intense in their regard, were riveted on hers, and what she saw in them had a direct effect on her breathing. As in it completely stopped.
He angled his big muscular body towards her and what broke the spell, Rose realised, was the fact that she'd stepped towards him. Just fractionally, but clearly enough for him to notice.
Also enough to step on the back of the shoe of the woman in front of her, who said something rude. And then the facilitator standing on the podium made a gesture towards her and said, 'Angliski? English?'
A microphone was shoved in front of her face. Rose looked down at it and back up into those spectacular, mesmerising eyes that were Why was he looking at her like that?
Ask a question, Rose. He wants you to ask him a question.
Her throat, already dry and unaccountably scratchy, was constricted. She ran her tongue along her bottom lip. From somewhere her voice came, all high and breathy and really, really Texan.
'Are y'all single?'