Fashion executive Riley Gold knows that appearances are everything. And New Year’s Eve in Milan is no exception. If Riley’s going to have a reputation for being an “ice princess,” then she’s going to be flawless, glacier-cold perfection. Especially when Chaz Warren is here, looking too damn good, too damn sexy…and every inch the enemy.
Not only are their families fashion archrivals, but social media mogul Chaz Warren is a player—and the world knows it. But for one X-rated night, Riley will give in to the electric lust that’s always been crackling between them. All it takes is a searing kiss to turn the heat from simmering to full-on passion…
Riley thought one night with Chaz would be enough. But it’s not enough, not nearly. Now Riley and Chaz are having a private—and completely naughty—affair, and hiding the scandalizing truth from both the tabloids and their feuding families. But keeping her deliciously hot enemy close won’t just melt the ice around Riley’s heart…he could incinerate it completely.
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Riley Gold didn't give a damn. She walked into the hotel ballroom knowing she was the best-dressed woman in the room.
Her dress was an RGold exclusive — black sheath, skew neck, half sleeve, back slit. The shoes were Louboutin crisscross pumps. Her shoulder-length honey-bronze highlighted hair was pulled up in a slick bun that had taken thirty minutes to perfect. Her makeup was simple, with dark eyes and matte berry-toned lips.
She was ready for the New Year's Eve party sponsored by Design International — a global magazine that routinely featured the hottest designers worldwide. As the chief executive of market research and product development at Ronald Gold Fashions, Riley was representing the company at this party, even though she was on her annual vacation.
RGF was on top of the domestic fashion market and holding strong at the top five in the global market. The company her grandfather had built and her father now ran was everything to Riley. It was her life, as the tabloids never failed to remind everyone.
RGF's Ice Princess Still as Frigid as Ever
That was the latest headline. A picture of her walking into RGF's Manhattan headquarters beneath it. Riley could still see the bold-print letters splashed across the front of the magazine as if they'd been emblazoned on the insides of her eyelids. Despite the headline and the article she refused to read, Riley had taken extreme pride in the classy dove-gray pantsuit she'd been wearing in the picture. She'd learned a long time ago that appearances were everything. It didn't matter if she felt like crap, as long as she was flawless on the outside.
Flawless and brilliant.
Riley crossed the room, smiling and waving at industry people she knew. She stopped for a quick double-cheek air kiss with an international textile associate and provided vague answers to a fashion blogger's questions about what RGF had in store for New York Fashion Week. Her target was in sight and she was steadily making her way toward him — without looking as if she'd only come to this party to see him. Admittedly, he was a big part of the reason, but she didn't have to act like it.
There had to be at least three hundred people in the hotel's massive ballroom. A band played while staff weaved in and out of the guests with trays of hors d'oeuvres and flutes filled with champagne. Glitz and glamour were the theme on this New Year's Eve, with some of the top names in fashion wearing signature gowns and tuxedos. The air buzzed with excitement — for the New Year as well as the upcoming fashion season.
Riley was excited about the latter, as well. A lot was riding on the top-secret Golden Bride couture collection. This was the first major project Riley had worked on in the three years after the colossal mess she'd made of an international distribution deal that should have been a slam dunk.
Her assistant, Korey, had learned that up-and-coming designer Perry Reddleson would be attending this party. Ron Gold, Jr., CEO and lead designer at RGF, wanted Perry on his team. Riley had vowed to make her father proud by convincing Perry to work for the company. She'd practiced her pitch at least a hundred times during the flight here and again in her suite as she'd dressed for tonight. Now was the moment of truth.
"Perry Reddleson, I didn't expect to see you here," she said, coming to a stop in front of him.
He was a slim man with a head of sandy-brown curls that fell to his shoulders. His signature black frame glasses and dimples were on full display as he grinned back at her.
"The impeccable Riley, so very lovely to see you here in the city of fashion," he replied. He snagged two glasses from the tray that was being carried past and offered her one.
Riley accepted the glass and launched into her pitch. Twenty minutes and another glass of champagne later, Perry was grinning as he said, "All you had to do was ask. I'd be honored to talk about the possibility of joining the RGF empire."
He had a nice smile, Riley supposed. She was more concerned with the answer he'd just given her. It earned him a genuine smile from her, even as she began thinking of how fast she could head back to her room. The job she'd come to do was done, and more than anything else, she was ready for some time alone. To unwind and just be herself. Something, she thought as her fingers moved over the stem of the empty glass she held, that she never had enough time to do.
"You won't regret it," Riley told him. "RGF is more than its reputation. We pride ourselves on keeping a family-oriented work environment. If you were to officially join us, you wouldn't be just another designer — you'd be family."
He chuckled. "You don't have to continue to sell me on the offer, Riley. I've been following RGF's success for a long time. And I'm honored that the Ice Princess herself came all this way just to speak to me. There's no way I would turn down this opportunity."
Riley hated being called the Ice Princess. The tabloids had given her that nickname after the Walter Stone fiasco. And while she wasn't about to give Perry a tongue-lashing for using the stupid name, she did raise a brow as she stared at him. The act had Perry laughing loudly as if she'd just told a fabulous joke.
"Just kidding, Riley. Come on, let's dance," Perry said.
He plucked the glass from her fingers and placed it, with his own, on the next tray to pass them. He was taking her hand before Riley could cordially turn down his offer and in seconds she found herself on the dance floor.
The song wasn't a slow tune, which meant he really didn't need to hold her so closely. Yet Riley didn't pull away. She was certain any one of the media staff that were present would snap a picture on their phone and immediately text it to their editor. The picture of her dancing with Perry would no doubt grace the cover of at least one tabloid first thing tomorrow morning. Any other fashion house looking to snag Perry's talent would see that RGF had beaten them to the punch. With that thought, Riley moved easily to the rhythm of the music. She smiled and eased out of Perry's embrace so she could spin around before coming back to join Perry. The move gave anyone aiming for a photo op an unfettered view of her smiling ... and wearing an RGold original dress.
Another minute and the song was over. The band would probably continue to play until midnight when the DJ, who was set up in the far corner of the ballroom, would take over. Riley still hoped to be upstairs in bed by that time. Now she decided it was time to conclude this meeting.
"Well, I certainly don't wish to stop your celebrating," she said and dropped her hands from his shoulders. "I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me." Perry let his hands slip from her waist. "Surely you're not leaving the party. We still have an hour to go until midnight. There's champagne to drink and more dancing to be done!"
Riley smiled at the joy in his sea green eyes. "Oh no, I think I've had enough partying for one evening," she told him.
"Nonsense," a deep voice said from behind her. "You have to make time for just one more dance."
Riley's shoulders instantly stiffened at the familiar voice.
"You don't mind, do you, Perry?" he asked as he shook Perry's hand.
"Of course not," Perry replied. "As long as she continues to have a good time. We should all be on the dance floor at midnight. I'll be talking to you soon, Riley."
She managed a quiet good-night to Perry, her genuine smile already shifting to the cool, aloof one she'd grown famous for.
This time, the band did begin playing a slower tune, and to her dismay, Chadwick Warren stepped closer and asked, "Shall we dance?"
Riley didn't like how close he was.
Nor did she like how well he wore that single-button charcoal-gray tuxedo. Chaz, as everybody called him, was too tall, standing beyond even her older brother RJ's six feet two inches. His face was too chiseled, eyebrows too thick and beard cut too precisely. There were waves in his close-cropped ebony hair, too many of them, and he smelled ... Well, the cologne he wore smelled too damn good.
There was no way Riley would ever let on that she was bothered by any of the above. She nodded and took the final step to close the distance between them.
"You look stunning tonight," he said the moment his arms slipped around her waist, his hands flattening at the small of her back.
For the second time tonight, Riley lifted her arms to let her hands rest on a man's shoulders. The first time had been for business. This time, she prayed, would not overshadow the work she'd just completed.
"Thank you," she replied. "You're wearing the Crew, from King Designs's winter collection. It's an excellent cut that wears well, even if a modern cut would have worked better."
The color of the tux also added to the intense look in his deep brown eyes.
He chuckled. "I'll take that as a compliment."
For a split second Riley thought she could become lost in his soulful eyes. She wondered how it would feel to run her fingers over his rich mocha-hued skin. That was ridiculous. She didn't shake her head to clear the thoughts and remind herself of who and what he was, but she did shift her gaze to a woman across the room wearing a blue sequin gown. Again, they were most certainly surrounded by reporters, bloggers and photographers, so Riley's smile stayed in place as she concentrated on moving with the music, instead of the fact that she was dancing with the enemy.
"Seeing you like this is a pleasant surprise," Chaz said after a few moments of silence.
"I've spent every New Year's Eve in Milan for the last three years," she responded before snapping her lips shut. He did not need to know anything that personal about her.
Chaz looked down at her seriously.
"You don't usually dance at parties was what I meant," he said.
He was right. She did not dance at parties. Whatever events Riley attended were carefully selected and always related to RGF business in some way. She would not admit that the last thing she'd wanted to do tonight was attend this party. If she'd been able to do exactly as she'd wanted, Riley would be upstairs in her room with a cup of hot chocolate and a tray of Oreo cookies — her favorite guilty pleasure. She would be in bed wearing her pajamas and watching some old holiday movie. That would have been the perfect way to bring in the New Year.
And if she'd been able to do that, instead of attending this party, she would have missed seeing him. Riley was definitely okay with that. She'd first met Chaz when she was seventeen at a fashion show in Miami. Years went by where she only caught stories about him either via office gossip or the media. And then last year he moved back to New York.
"I had a meeting with Perry," she told him, and took a step back, letting her hands slide down his chest and torso until they were once again at her sides.
He looked at her quizzically this time. "The song's not over." "But I'm done," she replied.
He released his hold on her and gave a slight nod. "Like Cinderella running from the ball before the stroke of midnight."
Riley lifted her chin. "I don't believe in fairy tales."CHAPTER 2
That woman could wear a bedsheet and she'd still be the sexiest lady he'd ever set eyes on. Too bad she was public enemy number one. Or rather, her family — the Golds — were the archenemy of Chaz's uncle, Tobias King. Chaz had been inducted into the feud via his parents' deaths when he was nine years old. And again a year ago when family loyalty insisted he take a leave of absence from his thriving social media consultation business to help rebrand and boost sales for the men's line at King Designs.
All of that came second to the fact that each time he'd been in the company of Riley Gold this past year, she'd treated him like he was part of the Republic and she was a high-ranking official with the Resistance. The thought made Chaz smile, even when his body had already begun to react to seeing her in that tight black dress.
She looked dangerous, desirable and just a little bit frightening. Like a badass goddess in five-inch heels.
Chaz brought the glass to his lips and took a sip of aged whiskey while keeping his gaze leveled on her. She stood across the room, near a highboy table decorated to match the room's gold-and-black decor. Her hair, which Chaz preferred loose and dancing over her shoulders, was pulled up so that the slender line of her neck was visible. Diamonds sparkled at her ears and matched the triple-tier bracelet on her left wrist. The skewed-neck design of the dress left one delectable tawny-hued shoulder bared, its tight fit outlining the perfection of her curves. Chaz took another swallow from his glass and convinced himself that the fixation he'd had on Riley Gold, for longer than he cared to admit, wasn't at all foolish or immature.
The man she was speaking to offered her a drink and she accepted, but she would not sip from that glass. If he was correct, and Chaz was ninety-eight percent certain he was, the glass was filled with scotch. Riley did not drink hard liquor. Champagne and red wine were her preference, as were desserts over any other portion of a meal. The fact that he knew those things and too many more to count was probably a little obsessive, but nobody had to know that but him.
"See something you like?"
Chaz didn't blink at the heavily Italian-accented voice. He did spare a glance to his right, where Franco Vitali now stood.
"I see several things of interest," Chaz replied.
Franco chuckled. "Even if you were not their biggest competitor in the US, she would not give you the time of day. Her heart has been frozen since the scandal years ago."
"Not my concern," Chaz told him. "I like variety."
He did — normally. Chaz had a general affection for women and gave them his time as the need arose. Which, for the last ten years, seemed to be quite often. Starting with a simple bachelor blog, Chaz had quickly built a social media following that consisted mainly of women trying their best to end his lone-star status. He'd parlayed that success into Conversation Media, a multimillion-dollar social media consulting firm that Chaz was extremely proud to own. Riley, on the other hand, occupied another space in his mind. One he had yet to figure out.
"Me, too," Franco continued. "Listen, there are dozens of models in my suite. They could not come down as they were not invited. You, my friend, are invited to join me upstairs to bring in the New Year properly."
Chaz managed a bland grin in Franco's direction. He'd known the guy for years, as he was one of Italy's most talented designers. And he had an eye for good art, just like Chaz. But Chaz had never partied with Franco.
"I think I'm good with my own celebration," Chaz said.
Franco shrugged his slim shoulders. "Suit yourself, compagno."
Alone once again, Chaz looked across the room only to be disappointed. Riley was gone. It was just as well. At least he'd had a partial dance with her. There could never be anything between them, anyway. His uncle, the feud, his new position at King Designs and the pending success of Chaz's new venture — ChatMe, a social media platform designed for on-the-go millennials enjoying the single life — stood in the way.
That meant Chaz had better things to do than to nurse thoughts about Riley Gold. He could save those for when he was alone in bed, as he'd been far too often to admit. Finishing his drink, Chaz decided he had time for one more business connection before the New Year rolled in. He was heading toward a well-known fashion magazine editor when he caught a glimpse of that infamous black dress and those long, sexy legs.
Chaz knew he shouldn't do it. He should continue his trek toward the editor, share a drink and small talk with her while dropping subtle hints about the new men's collection being debuted at Fashion Week. He should ignore Riley Gold the same way she always tried to ignore him.
But he didn't.
He couldn't. Which made no sense at all. Chaz never chased a woman.
To be fair, he wasn't actually doing so now. He was just walking toward the balcony. There was no rule against a man deciding to get some air ... in the place that a beautiful woman was doing the same. And it wasn't because each time he'd seen her tonight she'd been with another man — two other men — who had been standing very close to her. That definitely wasn't the reason he stepped onto the balcony, because Chaz was not inclined to be jealous of anyone.
She was on the phone with her back to him.
He should walk away now. Just let her do what she did best: freeze people — or rather, him — out for no reason. It was tempting as he stood there and thrust his hands into the front pockets of his pants. There were still plenty of women in the ballroom who he could dance with, have drinks with while the New Year rolled in and maybe even take upstairs to his room for the night. He also hadn't forgotten Franco's offer to attend his private party. Again, plenty of willing women. Chaz did not have to stand here and deal with Riley Gold.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Private Affair"
Copyright © 2020 Artist C. Arthur.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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