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Copyright © Angel Payne and Victoria Blue 2017. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.
My rolling luggage beat a steady click-click-click on the pavement breaks as I walked up to the VIP security checkpoint at the terminal of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field. I knew this trip would be a turning point in my career, but a funny feeling nagged at the back of my mind, predicting it would be more than just that.
I’d been feeling stagnant for a while, wanting so desperately to move forward, though continuing to be anchored in the same place. This trip, while only a few days, was the change I needed. Our cosmetics line at Stone Global Corp. was finally ready to take flight. Consequently, so were we—to launch the new line and all its products at Cosmetics Con, the internationally attended trade show that took place each year in the City of Sin. What better place to get out of a funk than nonstop Las Vegas?
The team, consisting of Drake Newland, Fletcher Ford, and me, was taking SGC’s corporate jet from San Diego to Las Vegas. A thirty-five-minute flight would put us right in the middle of the bright lights of the neon Strip in the Mohave Desert. I’d been to Vegas a few times before with my family—Auntie Maisie’s fondness for dollar slots was the stuff of in-jokes for us all—but I had a feeling this trip would be very different from hanging out with my parents, siblings, three uncles, three aunts, five cousins and a baker’s dozen of nieces and nephews.
That premonition didn’t have a thing to do with my travel mates.
Okay, maybe a little something.
It was all Claire’s and Margaux’s fault. They were the ones responsible for the anxiety practically eating me alive. We’d had a girls’ night last week at my place and, once they learned I was taking this trip with Drake and Fletcher, the taunting advice and playful jabs had begun in full. They’d teased me with all the love in their hearts, but I still couldn’t erase their words from my frontal lobe.
‘Those two can smell a girl like you coming a mile away.’ That was the only G-rated dig I could recall. By the end of the night and after a good amount of Patrón, I had been getting advice on what lingerie to pack—and not to pack. I was certain my usually olive-colored skin had gone three shades of rose after that one, but Claire and Margaux were good at doing that to me on a regular basis. I hadn’t been sure if they had been truly serious or just trying to see how crimson they’d been able to make me.
“Good morning, Miss Perizkova. You look lovely today.”
I glanced up at the uniformed steward who appeared just as I cleared security, not quite sure how to react.
“Stop flirting with my girl, Martinez.”
As the man chuckled, heat crept across my cheeks. Fletcher Ford appeared by my side, swiping my rolling bag before it left the TSA belt. The SGC board member, innovator and creative taskmaster—not to mention dead-on Justin Timberlake lookalike—who’d helped start up this new wing of the company fell into step with me while we headed toward our flight.
“Mr. Ford.” I tried to give his physique, perfectly fitted in Armani today, as discreet a onceover as I could. “Good day.”
“Well, it’s a good day now,” he murmured in return.
Time for a new subject. Pronto.
“I can handle my own bag, thank you.”
I snatched at my roller.
He moved the luggage just out of my reach. “Darling, I’m sure you can handle a lot of things for yourself, but would it kill you to allow me to be a gentleman now and then? Come on. Let all of my mama’s hard work do some good.” He laid on the killer smile that had earned him the devil’s own reputation.
My resistance turned to dust. “Where’s Drake? Err, I mean Mr. Newland?”
And I’d asked that…why? The two men made me almost speechless when I was with them one-on-one. When they were together, which was damn near all the time these days, I became a bumbling fool. I should’ve been grateful for the reprieve.
Fletcher smiled again—though this time a bit of sadness seemed to flicker in his blue eyes. “What’s wrong? You don’t like just me?”
“That’s not what I meant at all.” Now I felt like an idiot. “Really, I didn’t—”
He put me out of my rambling misery with a steady hand on my forearm. “Easy, Tolly. I was just yanking your pretty chain.”
“Why do you call me that?”
“What? Tolly? It’s your name, isn’t it? Talia?” He said my full name more dramatically—before adding that damn grin again.
Thankfully, we were nearing the plane and I could get away from the uneasiness of having to worry about witty chit-chat. While we were interacting professionally, I could hold my own, but this personal stuff was so far out of my league. I was never really good at it with normal guys, let alone a smooth, gorgeous god like him.
He opened the door to the tarmac and the San Diego sunshine instantly warmed me. A grin spread across my lips. We were having one of the mildest winters I could remember, and it was wonderful. I really loved living in Southern California.
“Of course,” I finally answered him. “I’ve just never been called anything but Talia.”
“Maybe it’s time for things to change then, hmmm?” He nodded toward Stone Global’s private jet, sleek and white, waiting across the pavement. “And there’s the other subject of your wonderment—already getting on board the plane, I see.”
I followed his line of vision to the top of the jet’s entry stairs, where Drake Newland was ducking his tall frame to fit into the doorway. His short hair was spiked in its usual perfect fashion, his tight, muscular body molded into his custom-fit, buttoned-down dress shirt.
Not that I noticed the fit of his clothes.
Okay, I noticed. But it was hard not to—with either of these men. They were tall, handsome and very well-defined. I’d been working with them on the development of the cosmetics line at SGC for many long months, over many long hours. I would have had to have been dead not to notice their jaw-dropping physical appeal.
And their flirtatiousness.
Oh, yeah. That.
As in, flirtatiousness. All the time.
In the beginning, I’d told myself they simply behaved that way around all females, until Claire and Margaux insisted that wasn’t the case. It hadn’t been long before Taylor Matthews, my girlfriend from the sales department, had added her own agreement to that theory. After that, I’d begun to watch Drake and Fletcher a little more closely. For research purposes only, of course.
And what had that research told me?
At the moment, the only female I could pinpoint their pulling out all the blatant charm and urbane behavior around for—was me.
So what did I want to do with that recognition?
I had no idea.
The truth of it thrilled me.
But really, it terrified me.