Tucker Janack agrees to Nevada's "business only" ground rules. After all, love is a trap that the construction millionaire has avoided his whole life. But when great business partners turn out to be so much more, every rule gets broken. Will either of them be willing to try again or will their past get in the way?
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Never agree to a job interview in which the interviewer has seen you naked.
Nevada Hendrix was confident that nugget of advice had been sewn on a pillow somewhere, or made into an inspirational poster. Unfortunately, no one had shared it with her before. Now, facing Tucker Janack for the first time in ten years, she discovered it was very, very true.
She'd had a plan. That's what killed her. She'd polished her resume, practiced her answers to different interview questions, had bought a new blazer and had even paid an extra seventeen-fifty to get some stupid gloss treatment to make her hair look shiny. She who avoided all things girly whenever possible. Done in by a formerly naked guy and gloss treatment.
She was careful to keep her game face in placewhatever that meant. All she knew was that having her mouth drop open and gape in astonishment wasn't going to make her look capable.
"I was expecting your father," she admitted. After all, the call she'd received about the final interview had specifically said she would be speaking with Mr. Janack. Not a name she associated with a guy she'd known back in college.
"I'm running the construction and doing all the senior hiring personally on this project," he said, motioning for her to take a seat, which she did.
They were in a conference room at a hotel in Fool's Gold. Ronan's Lodge, known to locals as Ronan's Folly, was a beautifully constructed building with hand-carved woodwork and elegant furnishings. Things she might have stopped to appreciate under other circumstances. As it was, she couldn't see much past the man who'd taken a seat across the table from hers.
Time had been kind to Tucker. He was still tallwhich shouldn't be a huge surprise. So few men shrank these days. His hair was dark, with just enough curl to keep him from looking too pretty. The dark eyes, square jaw and hint of a smile on his kissable mouth were exactly as she remembered.
Um, no, she told herself firmly. Not kissable. Far from kissable. He was her potential boss. Or not, depending on how he remembered the past.
She swore silently and wondered why old man Janack couldn't have kept control of just one more project. but when it came to Tucker, she'd never been able to catch a break.
"It's been a long time," he said, giving her that slow, easy grin of his. The one that had made her feel like the most special girl in the world. That had been a complete lie and had broken her heart to the point that it had almost not healed itself.
She drew in a breath, pushed all memories of a younger Tucker out of her brain and squared her shoulders. "As you can see from my resume, I've been busy. After college I worked in South Carolina for a couple of years, learning all aspects of construction from the ground up, so to speak. we did mostly commercial spaces and, before I left, I was in charge of a five-story building."
It may have sounded small to him, but it was something that made her proud. "We came in early and under budget, with the cleanest inspection record the company had experienced."
He nodded as if he already knew all this. That, if he'd read her resume, he did.
"Why didn't you stay?" he asked. "They can't have wanted to let you go."
"They didn't, but I wanted to come home."
"Yes." She did her best not to remember that he'd never experienced what it was like to settle in one place. He'd grown up all over the world. After all, Janack Construction was multinational. She remembered Tucker talking about summers in Thailand, winters in Africa.
She sensed the danger of getting personal and reminded herself she really wanted the job.
"Since returning to Fool's Gold, I've handled mainly smaller projects. Some residential. I have experience working with crews of different sizes and understand state and local building codes." She continued talking, giving examples of her various skills.
"The team that will be working here is one of our best," Tucker told her. "They've been together a long time and they don't take well to outsiders."
"Do you mean outsiders or do you mean women?"
Tucker leaned back in his chair and flashed that killer smile again. "Janack Construction is an equal opportunity employer who complies with all state and federal employment guidelines."
"How very politically correct. I'm not afraid of a team of men, if that's what you're getting at. I grew up with three older brothers."
"I remember. How is ethan?"
"Good. Married. Happy. If you're going to be around for a while, you should look him up."
However, if the powers that be actually liked her, then Tucker was only in town to hire and would soon be jetting off to another part of the world.
"I will. I'm going to be here through the initial phase of the construction."
Damn. So much for being liked by a higher power.
"You work for Ethan," Tucker said. "Why do you want to come work for me?"
She didn't. She wanted to work for his father, but that wasn't an option. "I'm looking for a challenge," she said, admitting the truth.
"You've seen the scope of the project?"
She nodded. Janack Construction had bought over a hundred acres north of town. They were building a resort and casino complex on tribal land. The company had leased additional acres to a developer that specialized in outlet mallsa fact that had the female population in the area quivering in anticipation.
"We should talk about it," he said quietly.
Nevada stared at him, wondering why the project could warrant the slightly furrowed brow. And then she knew. The "it" in question wasn't work related.
"No, we shouldn't." She fought against the urge to stand and possibly back up, putting more space between them. "It was a long time ago."
"Nevada," he began in a low voice.
"Don't. It's over and done. It was meaningless."
He raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
Why couldn't he be like every other guy on the planet and want to avoid talking about anything remotely uncomfortable? Did they have to rehash the past?
"Tucker, it was ten years ago. Five difficult, awkward minutes out of my life. Seriously, it doesn't matter."
He shifted in his seat. "Is that how you think of it?"
"That's what happened. You were drunk, I was " She pressed her lips together. No way was she going to say the words "a virgin" during a job interview. "Let it go."
"It wasn't five minutes. I've never" "Oh, my God!" Unable to stop herself, she stood. "This is about your ego? You can't handle the fact that our brief sexual encounter a decade ago was a bad memory? Grow up, Tucker. It's not important. I don't think about it. I came here to have a job interview, not " She stopped herself, but had a feeling it was a little too late. "We were friends then, too. Can't we remember that instead?"
He stood, as well. "You didn't think of us as friends. Not after."
She wasn't a screamer, which was the main reason she didn't shriek at him. Instead she forced herself to sound completely calm and in control. "Did you have any other questions about my work experience?" "No."
"Then it was great to see you again, Tucker. Thank you for your time."
With that, she turned and walked out of the conference room. She kept her head high and her shoulders back. No one looking at her would guess that on the inside she was both humiliated and defeated.
Having to relive that embarrassing night with Tucker was bad enough, but to lose the chance at her dream job was even worse. She'd wanted the opportunity to work with Janack Construction. They were a great company and she would have been able to stretch herself professionally without having to leave Fool's Gold. Life didn't get much better than that.
Instead he was going to dismiss her without considering her qualifications, which was just like a man. Talk about unfair.
She spun on her heel and marched back to the conference room. The door was still open. She saw Tucker slipping a folder into his briefcase.
Her folder, she thought grimly. Sheets of paper representing her hopes and dreams.
"I'm good at what I do. I work hard and I know this town," she told him when he looked up and saw her. "I understand the people and I could have been an asset to you. But that's not going to happen, is it? All because of a meaningless act that took place years ago. So much for integrity."
Tucker watched Nevada turn her back on him for the second time in less than a minute and walk away. The door closed firmly behind her, cutting off his view of her cropped blond hair and stiff back.
"Not a bad exit," Will Falk said, coming through a side door. "When did you two have sex?"
Tucker glared at the other man. "It's none of your business."
"You think I wanted to hear all that? Based on what she said about your performance, you need to do something." Will, a forty-two-year-old friend of the family and Tucker's assistant, grinned. "Five minutes? Pretty humiliating."
Tucker ground his teeth together. "Thanks for the recap."
He wanted to shout that it had to have been longer than five minutes, even though, technically, he couldn't remember much about the evening. As Nevada had pointed out, he'd been drunk. Not to mention out of his mind, lost in a tempest named Caterina Stoicasescu. Unfortunately, Nevada had also been caught up in the hurricane of Cat's life, however briefly.
"You really blew it," Will offered helpfully. "I thought she had potential."
"She does. I'm not done with her."
Will chortled. "Seriously? You think she'll come work for you now?"
"She wants the job."
"No. She wanted it. Past tense being the key here. Now she knows it means working for you. Hell, Tucker, five minutes?"
"Would you let go of that?"
"I guess I'm going to have to. Still, you were a smart kid, not ugly enough to crack a mirror. I figured some woman somewhere would take pity on you and show you the ropes. Guess I was wrong."
Tucker pointed to the door. "Out."
"or what? Going to pull my hair?"
Will was still snickering when he limped out of the room.
If it had been anyone else making fun of him, Tucker would have been pissed. But Will was practically family. Barely ten years older than Tucker, Will had been working for Janack Construction since he'd left high school, and Tucker had always thought of him as the older brother he'd never had. Will had quickly moved up the ranks, until an accident six years ago had broken both his legs and fractured his back.
The company medical insurance had taken care of the bills, and Tucker's father had kept Will on the payroll. Even after a year of healing, Will hadn't been able to go back to working at a site.
Right about then Tucker had started running projects on his own. He'd offered Will the job as his right-hand man and they'd been working together ever since. They were a good team, which was why Tucker was willing to take so much crap from his friend. All of which was interesting, but didn't solve the Nevada problem.
The casino-resort project was huge. The biggest one he'd ever run. He needed a good team in place and Nevada brought a lot to the table. The fact that he knew her and trusted her made him unwilling to let her simply walk away. But how to convince her to let go of the past and come work for him?
As he followed Will out of the conference room, he realized once again the trouble in his life could be traced back to Caterina Stoicasescu. Cat had always been hell on wheels. Those around her had the choice of ducking out of the way or being run over and left broken and bleeding on the side of the road. He'd been run over plenty of times, until he'd realized he was done being a fool for love. The emotion wasn't worth the trouble. Unfortunately, Cat had left him one more mess to clean up.