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Christy glanced at her reflection in the full-length mirror and smiled. This particular outfit, a slip dress of that particular shade of lime green that was so popular, and her new hairdo, a work of art by Lamar, had transformed her into a woman she didn’t even recognize.
Lamar had given her a haircut to complement her face. The mass of reddish curls that flowed around her shoulders looked fuller, thicker, and even more vibrant. She had turned quite a number of male heads after leaving the salon. Her brothers used to tease her about the color of her hair, which she had inherited from her paternal great-grandmother.
Christy’s smile deepened at the thought that she looked somewhat older, a little sophisticated, maybe even a little daring. Her high-heeled sandals and her leather double-handled purse added the finishing touch. She was looking forward to her date tonight with Kevin, a guy she had met last weekend at a party given by a co-worker. After a rather long and pleasant conversation, she and Kevin had practically danced the night away. She couldn’t remember the last time she had shaken her booty so much. And he hadn’t been a bad dancer, either. When she decided to call it a night, he had walked her to her car and surprised her when he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
OK, so she hadn’t felt the passion, the zing, the torrid explosion that had ambushed her that time Alex had kissed her, but Kevin did have potential and with a little more practice his kiss would eventually graduate from being nothing more than a pleasant mouth exercise.
Although she hated admitting it, Alex’s kiss had stirred a carnal desire within her that she hadn’t known existed. It had introduced her to sexual impulses, hot dreams, and basic urges. Just thinking about it was a lot for a twenty-four-year-old virgin to handle. But she would handle it, since she wasn’t into casual sex. The man she gave her virginity to was going to be the one who was destined to be a part of her life forever.
She glanced around when she heard the sound of the doorbell, wondering who it could be. She didn’t know a lot of people in Cincinnati, since she’d been in town for only a month, and she had opted to meet Kevin at the club instead of telling him where she lived. She was still cautious, since she didn’t know him that well, and although he had been the perfect gentleman at the party on Saturday night, she couldn’t help but remember the number-one rule her brother Dex had given her when she had moved out of her parents’ home into an apartment upon returning home from college: Never give a man your address until you get to know him better. And if he gives you trouble, call me and I’ll come kick his ass.
She smiled knowing Dex had been dead serious. Crossing the room, she headed for the door. She glanced through the peephole, but because dusk had settled in and the person’s back was to her, she knew it was a man but couldn’t make out his identity. “Yes, who is it?”
Sharp needles pricked Christy’s heart at the sound of that name. Surely she had heard wrong and the man standing on the other side of the door was not the person she had always thought of as “her Alex” until that fateful night three years ago when he had let her know he was not “her” anything.
She quickly looked out the peephole and drew in a deep shuddering breath when he turned and she stared straight into the face of the one person she had moved over one thousand miles from her home to escape. The main question that began forming in what was left of her confused mind was, what in the world was Alex doing in Cincinnati?
Knowing he was the only person who could answer that question, she snatched open the door and gave him a hostile glare and spoke with all the loathing she felt: “What are you doing here, Alex?”
Alex stood in the doorway, transfixed, mesmerized. He doubted he would ever get used to this grown-up version of Christy. When he had seen her that night three years ago at a charity auction, it had been the first time he’d noticed how she had gone from being a string-bean wisp of a girl to a young woman with luscious curves that had been so apparent in the flirty little gown she’d been wearing.
But now, seeing her standing before him, regardless of the fact that she had a huge frown on her face and her eyes were shooting daggers at him, he was suddenly tongue-tied, and he’d never been a man at a loss for words. It didn’t help matters that she was wearing a dress that resembled nothing more than a slip and it clung to her body a lot more than that other one had.
“Alex, I asked what you’re doing here?”
The sharp tone of Christy’s voice snapped him out of his trance as he met her murderous gaze. “I was in town on business and thought I’d drop by to see you.”
The anger in her eyes darkened. “Tell that to someone else. First of all, what business could you possibly have here in Cincinnati? Second, since we’re no longer friends, why would you want to see me?” Her glare deepened. “My brothers sent you, didn’t they? They sent you here to spy on me.”
Alex glanced around. A couple of Christy’s neighbors were arriving home and seemed interested in what was going on. He met Christy’s gaze again. “No, I’m not here for your brothers,” he said truthfully.
Although they had asked him to check on her, he would have done so anyway. His reason for being here had nothing to do with her brothers but everything to do with the unfinished business between them. “Let me inside, Christy. We’re causing a scene.”
Christy noticed what he said was true and reluctantly stepped aside to let him in. This was a nice apartment complex that catered to families. She’d only recently moved in, and the last thing she wanted was for any of her neighbors to think she was having any sort of domestic issues.
Once the door closed behind Alex, she turned to him, her expression fighting mad. “You have no right to be here.”
Alex sighed deeply. Over the years, her reddish-brown hair had become more vibrant and was the color of flame, which basically matched her fiery temper. But even in all her heated splendor, she looked beautiful, desirable, and the sight of her made his gut clench. “I do have business here in Cincinnati, since I have investment property that I check on occasionally. But besides that, I had to come and see you, Christy,” he said, thinking she was much too tempting for her own good. “There’s unfinished business between us.”
“Unfinished business?” she snapped, placing her hands on her hips and taking a step closer as rage engulfed her. “Oh, trust me, any business that I thought may have existed between us in my little girl’s mind is definitely finished. You made things perfectly clear that night. You were right, I needed to grow up and I have. I’m three years older and wiser. I know not to blindly trust the words of a man. I know how to tell the difference between pity and sincerity. And I know how it feels to give your heart—your undying love and affection—to someone just for him to trample it.”
She inhaled deeply, trying to place her full concentration on her anger and not the sight of him standing in her living room. Six feet and four inches of the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. Even in Ohio, it was easy to see the word Texas written all over him while he was impeccably dressed in a chambray shirt, designer jeans, boots, and an expensive-looking blazer. His black hair was cut low on his head, and all his handsome features, including his dark, penetrating eyes, added depth to his semi-sweet chocolate–colored skin.
She needed him to leave before the tears started coming. She had cried her last tear over him. “I loved you and you threw that love back in my face because you thought I was too young to know my feelings,” she said heatedly. “Well, I’m doing just what you suggested. I’ve grown up and let go of childhood dreams and fantasies. I have a wonderful job and I’ve even taken your advice about dating men closer to my age. Things are going just great for me,” she lied, deciding he didn’t have to know that. “And I intend to have a fantastic love life.”
Something within Alex snapped with that proclamation. He gritted his teeth, thinking she had definitely said the wrong thing. “What the hell do you know about a fantastic love life?” he asked sharply, grabbing her arm.
She snatched her arm back, lifted her chin, and met his glare. “Nothing yet, but I intend to learn.”
A rush of anger tore into him. She would learn, all right, but only with him. It would be a cold day in hell before he let any other man touch her that way. Dammit, she was his! She had loved him once, and he would see to it that she loved him again.
Suddenly his head began swimming and the first thought that came to his mind was that he was acting stone crazy. No woman had ever driven him to this point. He was dealing with emotions that were unfamiliar, hazardous, threatening to push his limit of control. He had to get a grip.
He exhaled slowly, trying to calm the rage consuming him. “Have dinner with me,” he said in a strained voice.
“Dinner?” She slung back that single word as if the thought of going out to eat with him was as foreign as a six-dollar bill.
He watched as she threw her head back and all that fiery red hair cascaded around her shoulders, making her look like a woman on the warpath, a woman who could take on anybody, including him. “I would not go out with you, Alexander Maxwell, if you were the last man on earth.”
He inclined his head and glared back at her. Little did she know that he might as well be the last man on earth, since he was definitely the only man she would ever become involved with. “We need to talk, Christy.”
“We don’t need to do anything. I’ve already told you in plain English that we don’t have anything to say. It’s been said and, if I recall, you did most of the talking.”
He shook his head. This was one stubborn woman, but he could be just as stubborn as she was. “I refuse to leave until we get a few things straight.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. “There is nothing to get straight. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date, so please leave.”
Alex’s features darkened. Just the thought that she was going out with another man had him seeing red again. He knew he had to pull himself together, get himself in check. Besides, he had pushed her enough for one night, especially when she had a tendency to push back.
He would be in town for a few more days, and although Christy might wish otherwise, she hadn’t seen the last of him. Before he returned to Houston, she would definitely know who she belonged to.
Without saying anything else, he turned and walked out the door.
Christy closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. How dare he? How dare Alex show up on her doorstep like this! After ignoring her for three years he thought they had a reason to talk?
She inhaled again, calmly this time, as she tried to understand why on earth he assumed there was unfinished business between them. They had not only finished things between them, but he had let her know in no uncertain terms that things should never have escalated to that point anyway.
She had felt as stupid as any one woman had a right to feel when he had looked into her face, after she’d reminded him that he had given her that pinkie ring as a promise of marriage on her thirteenth birthday and said, Christy, you know I was just kidding with you that day, don’t you?
No, she hadn’t known he’d only been kidding. Wearing his ring had meant everything to her, but he had looked her dead in the eye and said, It meant nothing! She had found out the hard way that humiliation could make a person feel so awful, so low, that for as long as she lived she would never forgive him for making her feel that way. And tonight she couldn’t help but notice that the ring was back on his finger. She was surprised he hadn’t tossed it away when she gave it back to him.
A sharp pain she had tried so hard to ignore for the past three years touched her heart, reminding her of the reason she had fallen in love with him at thirteen. In her mind he had been her soul mate. To her he had been Alexander the Great, just like the nickname she’d given him in her preteen years. Even when she had gotten old enough to know what she wanted, it had always been Alex Maxwell. Alex who’d always had an older, sophisticated, and mature air about him. Alex with his smooth, sure walk, articulate talk, tall, lean, well-built body, an impeccable dresser, sharp, intelligent, all the things she wanted in a man.
There had always been this calm and collected spirit about him. He had always been a person in complete control, never showing any deep ingrained emotions. To her he had been Mr. Cool and she had admired that quality about him, but now she hated it with a vengeance. That night three years ago, she had seen just how ironclad that cool control was. She had seen him lose his anger but never his control. She would love pushing him to the limit, seeing him snap, but doubted such a thing was possible.
Deciding she didn’t want to think about Alex any longer, she grabbed her purse off the table. More than anything, she intended to have fun tonight and was determined to erase the forever cool and in control Alex Maxwell from her mind once and for all.
Alex had had a ton of messages waiting for him when he returned to his hotel room. Most of them, he figured, were from the Madaris brothers. He was too upset to talk to anyone tonight and decided to wait until morning to return their calls.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, not believing how angry he was. He was like a man possessed. If he didn’t know better, he would think he was in love. He let out a frustrated sigh. Dammit, he knew better than that since he was incapable of loving anyone; unable to show that emotion . . . thanks to his poor excuse of a father.
He walked over to the hotel’s window and looked out, and recalled just when he’d realized how Carl Maxwell’s disappearing act had left a scar on him. He hadn’t quite reached his first birthday when his father had walked out on his wife and two sons. But the child in Alex had loved the missing parent anyway, and had actually believed that because of that love, his father would one day miraculously return. No one, he had thought in his young, naïve mind, would not accept that much love. He was proven wrong when his father never returned to the family he had deserted.
The day he had realized the truth, that all the love in the world wouldn’t make his father return, he had lost control and totally trashed his bedroom. On that day he had promised himself that no matter what, he would never fall in love and no one would ever make him lose control of his emotions again. By the time Alex left for college at sixteen, he had learned a hard lesson in life and had vowed never to put stock in the power of love.
His thoughts shifted back to Christy and he felt a deep pounding of his heart in his chest. If it wasn’t love he was feeling, than what was it? What had him in such turmoil at the thought of her with someone else?
He rubbed his hand down his face, feeling both mentally and physically exhausted. Moments later, he released a slow breath. He might not want any part of love, but he did want Christy.
And no matter what, he was determined to have her.