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Alex Diaz leaned forward in his seat as the limo pulled to the curb of Seventy-Second Street and West End Avenue. The luxury high-rise building was all soaring modernity and tinted glass, and exactly the sort of place he'd expect Chelsea Maxwell to live in.
His lips curved in an ice-cold smile of anticipation as he pressed the intercom to speak to the driver. "Just wait a few minutes, please."
"Very good, sir."
His gaze flicked to his watch and he brushed a near-invisible speck of lint from the crisp sleeve of his tuxedo. Seven twenty-five. The party started in five minutes, but naturally Chelsea Maxwell would be fashionably late.
As would he, since he intended on giving her a lift.
Outside the lights of Manhattan gleamed in a wintry darkness and people hurried past on West End Avenue's wide pavements, heads bent against the cutting wind that funneled down the street. It was early February and New York was caught in a stranglehold of cold unrelieved by the softness of any snow.
The weather, bitter and relentless, suited Alex perfectly.
Tonight was the beginning of his personal revenge on Jason Treffen, much anticipated and long overdue. They said revenge was a dish best served cold and if so Jason was going to enjoy every icy mouthful.
And for that he needed Chelsea Maxwell. Or at least her television show.
Seven twenty-seven. Had she decided to skip the party? He let out his breath in an impatient hiss. Tonight's party was a birthday bash for Chelsea's boss Michael Agnello, and if rumor had it, the man with whom she'd slept her way to host of the number one daytime talk show. She had to be going.
Seven twenty-nine. Alex shifted in his seat, suppressing a flare of irritation. Where was she?
Then the tinted glass doors of her building swooshed open, and she stepped out into the freezing night, her body swathed in a long, elegant coat of ivory cashmere. Her chestnut hair was pulled into an elaborate up-do, and diamond chandelier earrings sparkled and swung against her jawbone. Alex saw her gaze flick toward his limo, and then her face tightened in annoyance, and he knew she was irritated that the driver hadn't come out to open the door for her. She thought his limo was hers when in actuality hers hadn't arrived.
Because he'd called and canceled it.
His mouth curling in a smile of pure, predatory anticipation, Alex pressed a button to roll down the window. He leaned out, a blast of wintry air ruffling his hair, as Chelsea started toward the limo, all confident, glittering purpose.
She stopped, eyes narrowing, as he leaned a little more forward so she could see him. "Alex Diaz," he said, though she had to know who he was. They'd only met at various media events a handful of times, but most people in the industry knew him and in any case, Chelsea Maxwell didn't seem like someone to forget a face. "Am I right in thinking we're both headed to the same place?"
"I suppose that depends where you're heading." Her voice was low and throaty, attractive yet decidedly cool, and her eyes were still narrowed. Curled up on one of her trademark pink velour sofas on her talk show, Chelsea Maxwell was all wide eyes and husky sweetness. In real life she was harder, sharper, but then Alex supposed you didn't get where Chelsea Maxwell had by being stupid or soft.
"Michael Agnello's fortieth birthday party?" he prompted, and she just cocked her head, waited.
Normally he wouldn't have bothered going to a party such as this one. He had no time or patience for the petty scheming and schmoozing that was the trademark of such industry events. But he'd known Chelsea would be going, and he needed to talk to her. Find out what she knew, what she planned on doing.
To use her, or at least use her show.
He opened the door of the limo just as another gust of icy wind blew Chelsea's coat around her long, slim legs. "May I offer you a lift?"
She hesitated and Alex waited, adrenaline and impatience rushing through him even though he remained completely still. He hadn't considered what he would do if she said no. He never thought about failure.
"Thank you," she finally said, and slid in next to him in the limo. Alex moved over a bit, but her thigh still nudged his and he inhaled the scent of her perfume, something expensive and understated.
He stretched one arm along the back of the seat as the limo pulled away from the curb, and she turned to him, a knowing little smile curving her lips. "So why did you steal my limo?"
He felt a flare of surprise, a glimmer of cool amusement. So she wanted to work a little flirt? Fine. He could play that way, too. He arched an eyebrow, smiled back. "Do I look like someone who would do that?"
She gave him a deliberately thorough once-over, her gaze sweeping him from head to foot and lingering un-apologetically on certain places. His body reacted to her assessment, groin tightening, gut plunging. There was, he acknowledged, something incredibly erotic about her confident perusal of him. "I'd say so."
He shook his head mockingly. "So suspicious."
"Isn't everyone in this business?" She dropped the light tone and leveled him with a hard look. "So, why the cloak-and-dagger routine? What do you want?"
He just smiled and arched an eyebrow. "What makes you think I want something?"
"I wasn't born yesterday, Mr. Diaz."
"Call me Alex."
"I'd be delighted to." Her smile was flirtatious and yet her eyes were cool. Amazing eyes, really. Gray-green fringed with thick, dark lashes. "So, Alex," she said, her voice dropping into a purr. "I hire a limo for tonight but I find you in one instead, offering me a lift. Coincidence?" She raised her eyebrows, two thin arcs of incredulity, that knowing smile curving her mouthquite an amazing mouth, too, now that he was looking at it. Full and lush even when her lips had been pursed. "I don't think so."
Alex almost smiled, despite the fact that Chelsea Maxwell's ability to see straight through his paper-thin ploy should have alarmed, or at least annoyed, him. This wasn't going to be as simple as he thought. Not nearly. Good thing he enjoyed a challenge. And good thing he intended to publicly ruin Jason Treffen no matter what the cost, or who paid. The fact that he could do it on live television just made it all the sweeter.
He shrugged slightly, relaxed back in his seat. "Fair enough. I do want something, Ms. Maxwell."
She did not, he observed, tell him to call her Chelsea. She just waited, eyes still narrowed, that cool little smile playing about her mouth.
"How long have you been at AMI?" he asked, naming her network.
Surprise flashed so briefly across her features he almost missed it. Chelsea Maxwell was good at hiding her emotions, Alex suspected. Working on TV would do that to you. "Ten years."
"And you've had Chat with Chelsea for"
"Nearly four." She cocked her head, one elegant eyebrow still arched. "And you're asking this because
"I'm interested in your show."
She didn't so much as blink. "You don't seem like the type to watch celebrities spill their guts on afternoon television, but I suppose everyone has their secret vices."
He laughed softly, enjoying this unexpected repartee. He was used to people sucking up to him, and the respite was surprisingly pleasant. "It's the number one daytime talk show on any network," he pointed out, and that lush mouth curved just a little more. "I know."
"I'm not interested in your daytime talk show," Alex said after a second's pause. He needed to be careful now, needed to consider how much to reveal. How honest to be. He wasn't about to give Chelsea any more information than necessarynot until he knew what she'd do with it. "I'm interested in the hour-long interview you're doing with Jason Treffen on prime time in March."
"Really." She crossed her legs, the coat slipping open, and he saw the thigh-high slit in her silvery-gray gown, revealing a hell of a lot of slim, tanned leg. His libido stirred again and Alex gave it a hard shove back. He wasn't about to complicate this with sex. Not unless it served a purpose, anyway.
"Really," he answered.
She cocked her head, her gaze sweeping over him slowly, in that same thorough assessment that had his groin tightening again. So maybe he did want things to be complicated. Sometimes sex was a means to an end, and with Chelsea it would undoubtedly be an enjoyable one. He wondered what she was like in bed. Wild and unrestrained, or coolly controlled? He suspected the latter, but he'd like to see her certainty slip a bit, her coolness replaced by fire.
"Are you making me an offer?" she asked, and there was no mistaking the teasing innuendo in her voice, rich with laughter and full-bodied flirting. Was this what Michael Agnello hadn't been able to resist? Alex could certainly understand it.
He stretched the arm he had draped over the seat so his fingertips barely brushed her shoulder. The cashmere was cold and soft under his fingers. "No, just telling you I'm curious."
"You went to quite a lot of trouble for mere curiosity's sake, Mr. Diaz." She smiled, shaking her head slowly, her earrings sparkling as they moved. Even though she was acting friendly, flirtatious, Alex knew she was nobody's fool.
And neither was he.
"Waiting in a limo isn't that much trouble," he told her, and she tilted her head again, eyes bright, her mouth still curved in that smile he didn't know whether he wanted to kiss or wipe off her face. It both annoyed and intrigued him, how coolly certain she was about everything. How unfazed by him.
He realized he had been expecting a little breathless flattery, a little dazed gratitude. He didn't like anyone kissing his ass, but he'd assumed Chelsea would jump at the carrot he dangled in front of her: the possibility of working on Diaz News. But now that he'd spoken to her he didn't think Chelsea Maxwell jumped for anyone.
Except she obviously had for Michael Agnello. And damn it, she would for him.
"I'm in contract with AMI for the next three years," she said and he nodded.
Alex glanced out the window; they were approaching Columbus Circle and would only have a few more minutes before they arrived at the party, and Chelsea was swept up into Michael Agnello's glittering circle of close friends.
"Let's talk over dinner."
She let out a soft, throaty laugh. "I wasn't aware there was anything to talk about."
"Don't play games with me, Chelsea." His voice came out hard as he turned to look directly into her eyes, but instead of seeing anger or annoyance or better yet, regret, in those hazel depths he saw something that jolted through him so he nearly rocked in his seat.
Desire. Lust. It was gone as soon as he'd locked his gaze with hers, but he still felt its aftershock reverberate through him. Felt the desire he'd seen in her eyes harden his groin.
He wanted, suddenly and quite fiercely, to sweep his hand up that long, lovely expanse of leg. To slip his fingers under the silvery, slippery folds of her dress and see just what it was hiding. And it seemed like Chelsea wanted it, too.
Well, wasn't that interesting. Complicated, perhaps, but definitely interesting. Maybe he didn't need to pretend he wanted Chelsea on his network. Maybe he could just show that he wanted her in his bed.
And maybe complicated could become simple.
"You think I'm playing games?" she queried, her expression completely veiled now. "You're the one hiding out in a limo, acting like you're James Bond." She shook her head, laughed softly. "When you want to talk straight with me, Diaz, I'll listen." Her smile curved deeper and she gave him another up-and-down, her gaze resting briefly on the bulge in his trousers. "Maybe."
Alex nearly swore. He felt like a horny teenager, unable to control himself, and the absurdity of it annoyed him. When had he lost control with a woman, with anyone?
The limo pulled up to the curb of The Mandarin Hotel. A doorman stepped forward to open the door and Chelsea fluttered her fingers. "But thanks for the lift," she added, and then she was gone.
Alex leaned back against the seat, furious, frustrated and yet still buzzing a little bit from the conversation. So Chelsea Maxwell was going to be a little bit more of a challenge than he'd anticipated.
Although if the awareness he'd seen in her eyes was anything to go by, maybe not. Maybe he could play this differently than he'd planned.
His plan, or so he'd told Hunter and Austin when they'd brainstormed together how to bring Treffen down for good, was to dangle the possibility of a show on Diaz News so Chelsea let him work with her on the interview with Treffen. It had seemed simple; she clearly wanted to prove herself as a serious journalist, and as CEO of the country's top news network he could make that happen. He'd tell her the truth about Treffen when he could be sure what she'd do with it.
Whether he actually offered Chelsea something on Diaz News was another matter entirely.
Revenge was a costly business. A price had to be paid. He'd certainly paid his.
Even now the memory of the last time he'd seen Sarah made his insides freeze with icy determination. He would avenge her, and every other woman Jason Treffen had used and abused. And he'd do whatever it took to accomplish it, Chelsea Maxwell be damned.
"Sir?" The driver peered into the dark interior of the limo and with a nod Alex climbed out.
He didn't give up that easily. He wasn't done with Chelsea Maxwell. He'd promised Hunter and Austin; they'd done their part, and it was time for him to do his, whatever it took. Smiling grimly, he headed into the hotel.