“I never wanted it to end.” --NYT Bestseller Marie Harte
Aidan Ross might be an engineering genius, but people skills? Not this soldier’s forte. Thankfully, a trusted friend is accompanying him to a make-or-break tradeshow…but then a bubbly redhead hops into his truck, claiming to be his new road trip buddy. She’s a gorgeous distraction he can’t afford. Or ignore.
Delaney Harper comes from a family of engineers—male engineers. With several impressive projects under her belt, she’s on a mission to prove she can hang with the big boys, too. But cracking the sexy, closed-off CEO is tougher than she expects…and hotter than she could have imagined.
With the tempting woman disrupting his carefully planned schedule, Aidan can’t focus on the road, much less their upcoming presentation. The future of his company is riding on this trip, and if they’re to land a huge account, he has to keep his head—and his heart—in the game…
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Driven to Temptation
By Melia Alexander, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Melia Alexander
All rights reserved.
He was the Mad Hatter trapped in a bad production of Alice in Wonderland. No doubt about it.
Aidan Ross drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead.
... One thousand eight ... One thousand nine ... One thousand ten ...
He blew out a frustrated breath while the driver of the luxury vehicle ahead of him finally completed an excruciatingly slow turn onto a side street. Once they were out of the way, Aidan stepped on the gas pedal and maneuvered his truck through Milestone's Tuesday morning traffic.
The residents of the central Oregon city didn't compare with Portland's crazy-ass drivers, but man, he wished they at least drove like they had somewhere important to go.
Didn't help that he did.
After way more time than it should've taken, he pulled into a space in front of the Ross and Associates office.
Normally, Harold White, his second-in-command at the fledgling geospatial engineering firm, would have their materials piled on the sidewalk, ready to be loaded. Only this morning, there were no easels, charts, or laptop. No Harold, either.
Which was weird. The guy was always on time. Always.
Aidan shoved the truck into park. Better find out what was going on.
He cut the engine, stepped out of the 4x4, and slammed the door shut. Sucking in a deep breath, he crossed the front of his Chevy Silverado. Harold was always after him to come to the office, but Aidan knew that was the last place he should be.
He forced his feet across the sidewalk, then yanked open the glass door. Late-morning sunlight streamed through an open window at the far end of the small room, landing on the wooden reception desk and the man pacing in front of it.
And Brenda, the office manager-cum-receptionist-cum-accountant, was nowhere around.
Sweat trickled down his back, despite the cooler late-summer temperatures. He wasn't good with clients, or with people in general. Harold, on the other hand, was a master.
Which was why Aidan preferred to work from home.
The man turned, nodded at him, then did a double take. "Aidan?" He smiled. "I haven't seen you since we signed a couple of years ago. How are you?"
Well, shit. Now what? Harold was also after him to shake his standoffish manner with their clients, not that Aidan could really control how he was. But it wasn't like he could walk out now.
His mind whirred as he forced a smile and stepped toward the older man's outstretched hand. "How are you, sir?"
What the hell was the man's name? Oh. Right. Brewster. Joe Brewster. He scanned his memory for some tidbit to do the small-talk stuff that Harold swore put people at ease. Something else Aidan needed to work on.
He owned Ross and Associates, for God's sake. He had a distinguished military record. All good reasons he should be able to do the small-talk bit.
He shook the man's hand, making sure to exert just the right amount of pressure. If he remembered correctly, Joe's quarter-million-dollar renovation of a recently purchased Milestone mansion had hit the paper not that long ago. "How's the remodel going?"
The man's face darkened. "The remodel's fine, but I hope Evelyn comes to her senses. 'Course, it's too late for any sort of reconciliation, but I want to be able to tell her that myself."
What the hell? Had Aidan missed something?
Joe clearly recognized the confused look on his face. "Evelyn. My wife. Ran off with a carpenter."
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Why hadn't Aidan heard this? And how the hell was he supposed to recover from opening this can of worms? He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Where was Brenda? He glanced at the partition that separated the reception area from the rest of the space and willed her to appear.
The older man didn't seem to notice his discomfort. Or chose to ignore it. "She's in for one huge surprise when the divorce is final," he said, shaking his head in satisfaction. "Serves her right. No one embarrasses Joe Brewster."
Because, of course, Joe Brewster's many affairs didn't count as embarrassing to Evelyn at all, did they?
Aidan refrained from pointing that out and cleared his throat instead. "Ummm ... How about some coffee?"
But the man was on a roll. "If that woman had any brains, she'd realize I've raised her up from the depths of despair."
First they were late getting out of Milestone, and now he'd managed to set off an important client. Where the hell were his employees?
"But what does she do?" Joe's face scrunched into an ugly scowl. "Screws a goddamned carpenter, for God's sake."
At the sound of rapid-fire footsteps from behind the partition, Aidan blew out a deep breath. About time.
A redheaded woman walked around the corner, holding a couple of boxes and glancing at her watch. She looked up, her emerald-green eyes latching onto his. "Finally," she said. "If you're on time, you're late. Didn't you know that?"
He frowned at the verbal jab, bit back the retort on his tongue, and raised an eyebrow instead. He didn't like being late. Ever.
This was so obviously not the mild-mannered Brenda.
Whoever the woman was, she clearly worked for him. "Please bring our guest some coffee," he instructed Red.
There were some advantages to owning his company, weren't there?
* * *
Delaney Harper stopped, trying her damnedest to keep her face neutral while the hairs on the back of her neck bristled.
Four years of engineering school, countless hours of engineering internships with some of the largest construction firms in the Pacific Northwest, two years with Ross and Associates. And after all that she was asked by the man himself to deliver coffee like some servant?
She swallowed down the retort on the tip of her tongue. And here she'd bothered to dress in a suit instead of the jeans and T-shirt she preferred. Even now she fought the need to fidget, to straighten the seam that somehow kept falling low on her shoulder and the skirt that seemed to slide up and down her hips when she walked. Maybe Mr. Please-Bring-Our-Guest-Coffee might have a safety pin she could use.
Remember the goal.
Run a major project for Ross and Associates. Convince her parents she had what it took to make it in a man's world. All so she could run her own engineering firm and employ female engineers who might otherwise not be given a chance to prove themselves in the construction world. If any of it was going to happen, it was up to her.
Failure wasn't an option. Which meant she had to show some of the grace her older brothers swore she lacked.
She sucked in a deep breath and made her feet move toward the stack of boxes and her roller bag by the front door. The last thing she needed to do was engage her mouth before her brain had a chance to process her words. A habit she had yet to break, if her brothers were to be believed.
Besides, if what she'd overheard was correct, Aidan Ross clearly needed her help to get him out of a sticky mess with one of the company's largest clients. No wonder the man didn't hang around the office.
She set the boxes down, readjusted her skirt as surreptitiously as possible, and, smile plastered on her face, turned. "Of course." She nodded. "How would you like your coffee, Mr. Brewster?"
For his part, Joe seemed to have recovered from his tirade. "Oh, no need for that, young lady." He smiled broadly. "I'm just waiting on some files for the Century Plains project." He raised his chin in Aidan's direction. "I know you'll choose your best team for this project, right?"
Century Plains? The large computer chip manufacturing facility had been on hold for a couple of years through the recession. Rumor had it they'd finally be breaking ground.
Delaney straightened, tugged on her navy skirt, and not because she wished she were in jeans instead. One always dressed for success when meeting her boss for the first time. At least, that's what her mother advised. Not that she took her advice very often.
This, however, was an opportunity dropped on her. Finally.
Brenda bustled into the room with the efficiency of a multitasking working mother. Or a damned good office manager. She pushed her telephone headpiece off her head with one hand. "Here are the files, Joe. Let's head to the copier where you can look these over. Hello, Aidan," she called over one shoulder as she preceded their client toward the back. "Good to see you."
Brenda didn't seem all that surprised to see the man. Although as far as Delaney could tell, he never showed up here. At least, not during normal working hours. There were plenty of nights she didn't leave until pretty late, though, and she'd never seen him come in then, either.
Aidan stood with a slightly bewildered look on his face, almost like he was trying to take it all in. He shoved his hands into the front pockets of his fitted jeans. Not that she was really looking all that closely at them.
Delaney cleared her throat. "I'm just about ready," she said, surveying the assorted pile. "Just a couple more boxes, and the easels and charts, then we're good to go."
And given the late nights she'd spent making sure her projects were successful, she'd be on the road to a future she knew she'd more than earned.CHAPTER 2
Aidan stared. Couldn't help it. The woman was pretty. Very pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way.
Thankfully, she'd diffused a tense situation. Joe Brewster was an important client to a firm like his, and the Century Plains project was critical to moving his company forward. Embarrassing himself in front of the man and losing a major account wasn't something he wanted to do.
And Aidan had come too close for comfort just now.
Her eyes sparkled with curiosity as she openly studied him, too.
I'm just about ready, she'd said. Right. "Where, exactly, do you think you're going?"
"Seattle. With you." She pointed to the crates of brochures and a roller bag by the door. "If you load those up, I'll be back with the rest."
Really? "The last time I looked, I was headed north with a short bald guy sporting a huge beer gut." The beer gut might be a little bigger now, but the older man had looked pretty much the same since Aidan was in high school.
"I promise he's still that way." One corner of her mouth quirked up. "Now, are you gonna load this up or do you want me to?"
Aidan pulled his hands out of the pockets of his 501s and crossed his arms over his chest. He'd likely end up with a wrinkled button-down shirt before reaching Seattle anyway. "Who are you?"
"Oh, right." She flashed him a small smile and tapped one foot on the vinyl floor. "Sorry. I guess we've never met. Delaney. Delaney Harper. I work for Harold."
He shook the hand she'd extended toward him, her grip firm and sure. Everything she'd said so far made it pretty clear she knew him, knew who he was.
As much as most did, anyway.
"You work for Harold," he repeated.
"That would be correct." The warmth of her smile made her even prettier, even with the raised eyebrow.
His gut churned again. Harold was right. He should spend more time at the office, get to know the people who worked for him. But he also knew he was better off — the business was better off — with the older man running the daily operations. Hadn't he done a great job of it so far? "Where is Harold?"
She blew out a disgusted breath. "Food poisoning. I told him not to eat the sushi he bought at the gas station last night, but he kept gloating about it being such a good buy." She shook her head, the late-morning sun making her hair look soft, like the kind a guy could grab on to while he thoroughly kissed her.
What? Aidan gave himself a mental shake. Where the hell had that thought come from? Granted, he'd immersed himself in industry stats for weeks, trying to find ways to gain market share. Especially since he'd received the email listing Ross and Associates as one of a handful of businesses giving a formal presentation at this week's trade show.
The one in Seattle.
The same one they were way behind schedule on. Even with the buffer he'd built into their travel plans, they'd be even later if they didn't get ahead of Portland's afternoon rush-hour traffic.
"I'll grab the rest of our stuff." She turned and marched around the partition.
Aidan blinked. What the hell was happening this morning? "Wait." He trailed behind her. "Harold has food poisoning?" Of all the times not to have a contingency plan ...
"He shoulda listened to me," she said as she skirted the printer placed against one wall, away from the cubicles that dominated the center of the large room. Beside it, Brenda and Joe pored over documents.
"What did he do instead?" She glanced over her shoulder. "Ate it this morning with his coffee. And he did it in front of me." At a door to the storage room, she spun around and faced him, an adorable frown on her pretty face. "Who eats raw fish at five a.m.? Frankly, it serves him right."
Maybe. Too bad the timing sucked. He scrubbed a hand over his mouth, tried to compose himself to deal with the situation in a calm manner.
He liked predictability, liked the way the world worked when he had it all planned out. Which was what had made him a good soldier, and really good at geospatial engineering. He'd known it from the moment Harold had introduced him to the field. Taking ROTC classes in high school had only solidified his eventual career choice.
Mapping out terrain was like taking an unknown and making sense out of it, and it thrilled the hell out of him. He'd done it with his army battalion, figuring out the best route to take behind enemy lines. Now he got the same thrill when he planned out construction projects.
And construction wasn't nearly as dangerous.
But this? There was no making sense of this. At. All. "Look, you're not coming with me."
She stopped halfway into the storage room, turned, and blinked her captivating eyes. "Why not? I'm the logical choice," she said calmly. "I worked with Harold on this project for the last six weeks. All of it in between the field work he's given me." She leaned forward slightly. "I know this presentation better than anyone here."
She was firm, confident. He'd give her that.
She pointed toward the office space behind him. "Not that anyone else is around. The other guys are out on jobs." She stared him squarely in the eye, straightened, and placed her hands on the ill-fitting navy skirt covering her hips. "You're lucky I'm available on short notice."
Oh, hell. She was right. He couldn't go to Seattle alone. He knew his strengths, his weaknesses. He wasn't exactly the approachable type. Nor was he the social, chatty type, either. Wasn't this morning the perfect example? He might turn off potential clients.
Worse, he would more than likely botch the presentation, and along with it the opportunity to finally impress the Pierce Engineering execs he knew would be there. Signing on with the international architectural firm would translate into more revenue and a bigger work force for Ross and Associates.
It might even make him happy. One day.
"What's it going to be, Mr. Ross?" she asked, arms crossed as she did the toe-tapping thing again. "Am I changing back into a pair of jeans or are we headed north?"
God fucking damn. How the hell could Harold have done this to him?
Aidan weighed his options. If she came along, there was a strong possibility she'd want to talk. In his experience, most women did. Talking meant she'd soon discover the Ice King his ex-wife had accused him of being. Not that he cared all that much what people thought of him, but the woman was an employee. So it was either take her along or do the trade show by himself.
Not much of a choice.
He blew out a breath. "I'll load up after I get the displays and easels."
"And what am I supposed to do? Stand here and watch you?" She unfolded her arms, and a corner of her mouth crooked up. "Not a chance." With the efficiency of an army drill sergeant, she about-faced, then grabbed a couple of folded easels and a box of markers.
He sure as hell wasn't going to stand around, either.
Aidan snatched a crate of brochures. Before he could catch up to her, she was halfway across the room, totally ignoring the fact that he trailed behind her.
Excerpted from Driven to Temptation by Melia Alexander, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2016 Melia Alexander. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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